Containing Grief: Ambiguities and Dilemmas in the Emotional Work of UK Childhood Bereavement Services

Doctoral thesis English OPEN
Rolls, Elizabeth M
  • Subject: BF | HV

This thesis adopts a cross-disciplinary perspective. Drawing on psychoanalytic and\ud sociological theory, it examines the emotional work of UK childhood bereavement services;\ud and explores the role of the researcher in the production of knowledge. It adopts Alvesson\ud and Skoldberg's (2000) reflexive methodology to re-examine data from an earlier study that\ud comprised a national postal survey of childhood bereavement services (n=127), and 8 ýndepth\ud organisational case studies. Data were collected through interviews with 60 paid and\ud unpaid staff, a postal survey of 74 unpaid staff, and participant observation of 6 group\ud interventions.\ud The thesis elaborates a theory of the ambiguities and dilemmas of their complex emotional\ud work, and the term 'emotion/al' is used to denote inter-relationship between three features of\ud the work: it expressly engages staff with emotion; it generates emotion in staff; and services\ud undertake emotional work with, and on behalf of, individuals, the organisation and culture.\ud The forward slash also signifies the potential for a bifurcated experience as a result of\ud undertaking this work.\ud Hochschild's (1983) sociological concept of emotional labour and feeling rules and Bion's\ud (1959; 1962; 1970) psychoanalytic theory of 'container/contained' are used to understand the\ud emotion/al process in each of these settings as one of 'containing grief'. Bion's\ud container/contained relationship describes the mechanism through which the capacity to link\ud experience to thought is developed. The thesis argues that childhood bereavement services\ud act as a 'container. In bearing children's intense feelings of grief and through their\ud interventions, services enable them to make meaning of their bereavement and integrate it\ud into their life narrative. Childhood bereavement services also challenge 'feeling rules' in\ud relation to childhood bereavement. Through their emotion/al work, they also act as a\ud container of cultural anxiety influencing and re-defining assumptions and beliefs about\ud children and their experience of bereavement. In containing grief, childhood bereavement\ud services contribute to cultural change.
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