There Is No ‘One-Size-Fits-All’ For Grieving: Developmental Mourning | Dr. Susan Kavaler-A...

Mourning loss is a part of life that every human experiences in one form or another. Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler has been a practicing clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst for over 40 years. Within her extensive experience in the field, and through her own personal dealings with grief, she’s understood that each individual mourning process has its own pattern, dimensions, and length; and the length should not be pathologized and medicated. Understanding it, and accompanying it in a healing and developmental therapeutic process, is the key to the developmental process of mourning. 

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Dr. Susan Kavaler Adler Psychologist Psychoanalyst

Grief, mourning, and coping with loss in general, is just a piece of the human experience.  However, its impact can be long lasting!  In fact, our individual mourning and grief process can change the way in which we express our emotions and experience life. 

There is no right way to grieve a loss or cope with trauma!  It’s a personal journey that changes the individual. While it can be hard to see in the moment, the way in which we react to mourning can teach us a lot about our own emotional capacity, and even change us for the better–if we let it. 

Susan Kavaler-Adler is a psychologist by profession, but her experience dealing with emotional responses to grief, heartache, and mourning, both professionally and personally, makes her an expert on the ways in which we cope with certain traumas in our life. 

“I dealt with loss at the young age of 10 with my father who passed away due to cancer. Unfortunately losing a parent at a young age is something that many of us can relate to, and it shapes the way in which we grow and develop, and thus, react in certain situations and relationships. 

“I was in my 20s when I really started to understand that I was going through a grieving process., which followed from the early loss of my father.  I was a young adult trying to grow and develop on my own. It was also around this time that I got my doctorate in clinical psychology, while also engaging in Dance Therapy,” Dr. Kavaler-Adler explained. 

At age 24 she earned a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in clinical psychology from the Gordon F. Derner School of Psychology at Adelphi University in 1974, followed by a clinical psychologist certification.  Dr. Kavaler-Adler then went on to training and experience as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, psychoanalyst, and as a supervisor and teacher of all those developing as psychotherapists and psychoanalysts. She published 7 books and over 70 articles, and won 16 awards for her writing, including the Gradiva Award (2004) from the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis.

“Being a psychologist or psychotherapist, it’s our job to give meaning and a greater sense of understanding to the emotional responses in our patients. Giving meaning to why a certain individual may be repeating the same self-destructive patterns can provide the links that they need to make a change in their behavior, and in the way in which they process their emotions.”

Dr. Kavaler-Adler started in the field of psychology and psychotherapy after exploring literature throughout her initial academic career.  She later published some books that combined literature and psychology in her psycho-biographic writings on outstanding women authors and artists. 

She studied at Syracuse University for her undergraduate degree, and during her time there she traveled to Italy for half a year to live and study in Florence.  She studied Italian art, Renaissance History, Italian opera, and the Italian language, while living with Italian families.   

While she was there, she became friendly with another female student in her program, a Barnard student who was studying with those in the Syracuse program abroad.  She and her friend would meet to drink cappuccinos and discuss their lives and experiences. This individual was, at the time, involved in her own psychotherapy at home, with a Clinical Psychologist.  She told Susan (Dr. Kavaler-Adler) that she was an amazing listener.  She suggested that she consider going into Clinical Psychology as a profession.   

When she returned to America, Susan decided to do a double honors major in literature and psychology. As she started her academic journey in psychology, she realized the “work” came very naturally to her, and beyond that, she was enjoying learning about the intricacies of the human mind and experience. Once she graduated, she went directly into a doctoral program at the Gordon F. Derner School of Psychology at Adelphi University, where she would earn her Doctor of Philosophy degree in clinical psychology. 

“I got into this field through the academic end, going through psychology classes and the work on my doctorate, which is around the same time I got into dance therapy. This was the beginning of getting into working on myself as well, leading to meeting with psychotherapists and psychoanalysts regarding my own journey. 

As I went along with this journey, I began to understand my own mourning and grief process as it played out in relation to my early and traumatic loss of my father. I had an awakening over how important the mourning process was, not only for my own healing, but also as a critical clinical and developmental process. Influencing my engagement with the field of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis as well,” Dr. Kavaler-Adler stated. 

Dr. Susan Kavaler Adler Psychologist Psychoanalyst

“Through my own experiences of mourning my own losses, particularly with my father, who I still can say I’m grieving over, I was able to make theoretical contributions in my field pertaining to my concept of ‘developmental mourning.’ I wrote books and journal articles about how critical it is to consciously feel and process grief and loss, and to also face the fears and aggression that emerge from within us as we face the pain, longing, memory, and renewed love, which comes with such mourning.  It was a fundamental part of my own growth and transformation as an individual, and therefore became one of the most important focuses of my career.”

Dr. Susan Kavaler Adler Psychologist Psychoanalyst

During her doctoral studies at the special clinical Psychology program at Adelphi University, Dr. Kavaler-Adler also become versed in dance therapy, experientially.  She then integrated her love for dance with her passion for psychology, as she had begun to integrate her studies of creative women in literature with her newfound passion for psychology. 

She completed her dissertation within the four years of her graduate studies. After three years of studying, she spent her fourth year doing an internship at the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health, known today as the Postgraduate Psychoanalytic Society and Institute (where she would also study to be a Supervisor of Psychotherapists later on, and where she would also teach). 

While Dr. Kavaler-Adler (Dr. Susan) was studying dance therapy, she was also working once a week at an institute for mentally challenged children. During her time there, she began to think about dance therapy in for children, as well as for adult. 

This led to her Ph.D. dissertation: “I had six dance therapists working with my control groups of patients and six dance therapists who worked with the mentally challenged kids. Although I didn’t continue working with children, I would continue to think about clinical work in terms of nonverbal self expression, as in the emotional expression in dance, along with verbal self expression, and verbal communication.   

When I later went on to psychotherapy and psychoanalysis training, I began intensive studies in British Object Relations theory, which helped me conceptualize all that I had been experiencing in my own psychotherapeutic work.  I learned about the early life origins of psychological losses, trauma, conflicts, and the nonverbal and verbal expression of all this.  I was then inspired to create a new psychotherapeutic training institute (now 32 years old).  I simply sat down on one July 4th holiday, which became my independence day and created a new curriculum that integrated the teachings of both the British and American Object Relations theorists”   

Dr. Kavaler-Adler founded the Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis in 1991, along with Dr. Robert Weinstein, who is now retired. She has been the Executive Director for 32 years, as well as serving as active faculty, and as a senior supervisor, and Training Analyst. 

“The Object Relations Institute’s curriculum remains an in-depth course of education in the contributions of the British Object Relations Theorists to the practice of psychoanalytic psychotherapy and object relations psychoanalysis. Along with studying Freud, we study each of the major British theorists: Melanie Klein, D. Winnicott, Ronald Fairbairn, Sandor Ferenczi, Wilfred Bion, Michael Balint, and Hanna Segal and Betty Joseph of the neo-Kleinians. Full courses are devoted to studying the writings and clinical theory of each of these theorists, and in sharing how it applies to our current clinical work.”

In addition, the Object Relations Institute teaches the work of Dr. Kavaler-Adler, integrating British and American theory for clinical work, which also relates to her unique theories of psychic change through ‘Developmental Mourning’ and the contrasting obstacle to mourning that she formulated as the psychic arrest in the form of the ‘Demon Lover Complex,’ and its underlying pathological mourning state. Dr. Kavaler-Adler draws on the psychoanalytic foundations of Sigmund Freud,,Melanie Klein, D. W. Winnicott, Ronald Fairbairn, Margaret Mahler, James Masterson, Candace Orcutt, etc., in her understanding of how mourning is a fundamental process of psychic development and psychic change.

“After I received my own training, I had continued to teach and supervise those in my field, through other institutes, before working primarily with the institute I had founded, the Object Relations Institute.  Established in 1991, the Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis  evolved from that July 4th day when I was deeply inspired to write out a curriculum that integrated both British and American psychoanalytic relations and theories. , 

Today, the Object Relations Institute (ORI) continues to educate psychotherapists and psychoanalysts in the teachings of past experts, as well as in my own personal findings and theories that have developed as I grew within the field.” 

“The Object Relations Institute offers a wide variety of curriculum options to offer up and coming psychotherapists and psychoanalysts the ability to learn from multiple theorists regarding their work and the successes they’ve had with patients through the work of their theories. The integration of teachings at the Institute gives the faculty the opportunity to teach about the branches of psychology that they’re really passionate about, so students are able to learn from the best and from a place of dedication that they can adopt in their own future practices.” 

Dr. Kavaler-Adler: “Unfortunately, a major aspect of psychotherapy has become diagnostic, with a need to label what the individual is going through when it’s not that simple, especially when it comes to loss. Mourning loss is a part of life, but there is no loss without a gain, and getting to a place where you can actually feel the gain isn’t a straightforward process. It’s complex and individualistic”  

There’s all types of loss experiences that go beyond death; divorce, separation, becoming an empty nester, moving, etc. and it’s all relative when it comes to grief. The more conscious you can be of those heavy feelings, rather than remaining unconscious as a means of protecting your peace, the more someone is able to have access to their full self, rather than keeping part of themself closed off, which is where the more negative symptoms of grief can come into play: depression, anxiety, obsession, etc. 

There’s always symptoms when people dissociate from their experiences with grief and loss. Dissociation in relation to mourning refers to when one blocks themselves off from all of the feelings integral to the process of healing from a loss, as a means of protecting themselves from heavier emotions associated with the process. However, without access to those parts of yourself you’re preventing yourself from developing further.  You deny yourself the ability to access all your emotions and instincts, and to have insight about your unconscious and your internal world.   

Parental loss has a lot to do with what’s internalized about development and what can hold someone back, potentially for a lifetime, if they don’t get psychotherapeutic treatment regarding mourning.

“My own experience with the primal loss of my father made me understand at a young age just how complex and long-term mourning can be. It’s something we all underestimate.  In fact, after a long period of grieving many of us begin to notice the people around us have their own ideas of when we should get over that traumatic loss, to the point that we internalize it, and become frustrated when we’re still grieving after a certain period of time passes. 

My own further development on mourning came with the understanding that it’s about more than the need to mourn and grieve a loss to move forward in life. Working through those heavy emotions in psychotherapy can work to further develop an individual and their views on life. It’s obviously a long process, but the feelings of loss and longing work to teach us about our own emotions and emotional responses beyond just grief. The ‘developmental mourning’ process, as I refer to it, goes beyond bereavement to teach the individual about themselves. 

This is why I always make it such a point to emphasize that mourning is an individual experience. The relationship that one has with the person they’ve lost is also an individual experience, so when we’re dealing with that loss we need to grant ourselves permission to grieve and mourn for however long we, personally, need to.”

When it comes to helping individuals on their personal journeys with grief and loss, Dr. Kavaler-Adler explained how she keeps herself open to whatever the person brings to the table, throughout a session, to gain a better understanding of their thought process. She works to help strip away the defensive parts of the person that are preventing them from truly feeling all the emotions necessary to start healing. Being attentive and aware of the individual’s emotions gives Dr. Kavaler-Adler the tools she needs to not only better understand their grieving process, but their general emotional processes as well. 

It has to do with being in the moment and being open to whatever the individual is feeling in the moment. A lot of patients have trouble just saying what’s on their mind, due to fear of vulnerability, fear of being judged, abandoned, or intruded on.  However, these fears give Dr. Kavaler-Adler a better insight into the patient’s emotional process, and then they can begin breaking down why those fears exist in the first place. 

“It’s an ongoing process, so first and foremost it’s important to identify and work on what’s stopping them from being in the moment and expressing their feelings, so that we can get to a place where we actually do work through the feelings of loss. It’s an intense process that can definitely feel scary, so it’s important for me to make sure they know I’m there for them.  I endeavor to create a safe space to express any and all emotions that they need, as well as the conflicts related to their desires, needs, and fears.

The process itself is often a cycle, so it can be confusing when we find ourselves in a place where we feel like we’ve fully healed, but then something happens that reminds us of the person, or of the heaviness of the initial loss.  Then the wound feels like it’s reopened, when in reality we’re just continuing on the cycle of what it is to mourn a loved one. 

These emotional responses are related to bereavement mourning, and as I advanced in my career, and matured in life, my definitions of mourning developed further, to go beyond bereavement, and encompass many forms of losses and separations.”

Dr. Susan Kavaler Adler Psychologist Psychoanalyst

“Through the support given in a therapeutic environment, also known as the holding environment, it becomes possible for the individual to take risks in experiencing the emotions within them that previously they viewed as too intense to take on alone. The support and knowledge that a therapist provides after building a trusting relationship with their patient can grant the individual the courage they need in order to face the things within themselves that might’ve felt too intimidating to face on their own. Especially when they’re in a situation where they experienced early trauma that taught them to repress negative emotions.” 

Dr. Susan Kavaler Adler Psychologist Psychoanalyst

“When an individual experiences trauma at an early stage in life, newer experiences of loss and trauma can cause older feelings to resurface simultaneously, which is why it’s so important to break down an individual’s past to link it with their present and help the person see what they’re reliving that could be intensifying their current trauma even more.”

The way in which we as human beings mourn is an integral piece to our development; hence Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s theorization of developmental mourning. The ways in which we grieve our losses and the changes that occur as we get older, impacts our emotional responses and growth. So many articles and books that theorize clinical work have been affected by engaging with patients who’ve experienced mourning and loss.  It’s something that should be emphasized when it comes to discussing psychology and the progression of healing that can take place in a therapeutic setting. 

“I want to emphasize that because I’m a dancer and a writer, I have a lot of sensitivity as a clinician to the non verbal responses that one may have when feeling and sometimes mourning, in psychotherapy. When we keep our feelings internalized, our bodies respond through psychosomatic symptoms, such as headaches, stomach aches, or general body aches that are a direct response to the rage and hopelessness that we bury within ourselves when we don’t open up about what we’re experiencing. I’ve found that I’m very in tune to the body and how it responds to trauma, even when the individual may have repressed and ‘forgotten’ about what made them start reacting and expressing themselves the way they do. Individuals may not be able to cognitively remember why they’re feeling or reacting the way they do, but the body always remembers!!! 

When I’m with an individual who’s experiencing these types of somatic responses I try to get them to speak from the part of the body that’s affecting them. I ask them to put themselves in the place of the headache, for example, and explain what they’re specifically feeling, as if they are the headache itself. By verbalizing the experience of the physical pain, they change the somatic experience into an emotional one, because they’re putting their pain in a visceral place to avoid consciously feeling what’s actually being experienced. Once they’re encouraged to put that visceral reaction into words, they begin to feel the emotional side of it, and we can begin to break down where their internalized pain actually stems from. 

My experience with my fathers death at 10-years-old was the basis of my theory regarding developmental mourning and its impacts on the emotional growth of an individual, and how they process future instances of trauma, loss, and heartache.”

According to Dr. Kavaler-Adler, when it comes to the emotional work we put into ourselves as we get older, there’s no part of it that isn’t shaped by our childhood experiences, and the way we were taught, consciously or subconsciously, how to cope with certain emotions, and how we express those emotions. We all carry our pasts with us.  It’s counterintuitive to try to heal yourself in the present without looking into the past, and into the experiences you had that led you to feeling the way you did, and do, in times of grief. 

“I’ve always been interested in the art of dance, which is something that followed me throughout my years of becoming a clinical psychologist. I’ve always been a dancer and a prolific writer. I’m an advanced Argentine Tango dancer, and something that’s always intrigued me as I developed in this field is the non-verbal ways in which we communicate and express ourselves, especially during times of grief and loss.”

Dance therapy is an experiential process that allows the individual to express their feelings through movement as opposed to doing it verbally. Dr. Kavaler-Adler explained that her training in Argentine tango focused a lot on improvisational movement, which in turn taught her about the importance of living in the moment, and the things that can distract one from being present in the present.

As a trained dancer, clinical psychologist, and psychoanalyst, Dr. Kavaler-Adler has been able to make analogies to the improvisational aspects of the tango, as well as to the creative arts, to the improvisational moments in clinical practice. These moments refer to the need to be vulnerable, and to talk about one’s emotions as they come up in clinical conversations; as well as to talk about the reaction to those moments; much like in the tango where the improvisational movements of the dance impact the following movements.

When it comes to creating the analogy with dance and these concepts of time, when you’re holding time, this is when the tango can take place, or in a clinical sense where the work to healing and confronting one’s emotions can take place. For the patient, it’s about being open to the moments where you can be free with your thoughts and associations regarding your emotional responses. The acknowledgement of these feelings can sometimes be enough to take the next steps on your journey to growth and developmental mourning. 

“In her earlier books, Susan Kavaler-Adler identified healthy mourning for traumas and life changes as an essential aspect of successful analysis, and drew the distinction between a healthy acceptance of mourning as part of development and pathological mourning, which ‘fixes’ a patient at an unhealthy stage of development.”

Dr. Kavaler-Adler is a distinguished author as well, publishing 7 books and over 70 articles on various subjects within her field. She currently has other works in development as well, highlighting some of the other aspects of her work. She has an honorary doctorate in literature, as well as a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Her books and articles have received 16 awards, and numerous nominations. 

She is also a Fellow and Diplomate of the American Board and Academy of Psychoanalysis (ABPP), related to her being as a psychoanalyst with the American Psychological Association and the Division of Psychoanalysis.  She is also a psychoanalyst with the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis (NCPsyA), and with the Postgraduate Psychoanalytic Society.

As a writer, Dr. Kavaler-Adler is very attuned to the verbal expressions of her individual psychotherapy patients, group psychotherapy patients, supervisees, and her psychoanalysis patients.  As a dancer, and one trained in Dance Therapy, she is very attuned to the nonverbal and preverbal experience of her patients.

Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s first book was published in 1993 through Routledge in London: “The Compulsion to Create: A Psychoanalytic Study of Women Artists,” and  was republished in 2013 to hold the new subtitle ‘Women Writers and Their Demon Lovers.’ (ORI Academic Press). 

In this book, “the reader is treated to such issues as compulsion versus reparation, developmental mourning and creative-process reparation, creative women and the ‘internal father,’ and the ‘demon-lover’ theme as literary myth and psychodynamic complex. A highly recommended addition to women’s studies, literary studies, and psychological studies supplemental reading lists, ‘The Compulsion to Create’ is original, revealing, insightful, challenging, at times iconoclastic, and always entertaining.” 

Her 1996 Routledge book ‘The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity,’ was also republished in 2014. “Through the life stories of women such as Camille Claudel, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Anne Sexton, Suzanne Farrell and others and through clinical case studies, Dr. Kavaler-Adler offers penetrating insights into the nature of the creative process. Kavaler-Adler contrasts unsuccessful psychological treatments with object-relations therapy that is able to resolve the pathological narcissism of creative addiction and allow the emergence of healthy modes of self-expression.”

These books break down the psychological responses we have to trauma and grief through the experiences of those who coped through their own personal growth, or who had to learn about their own grieving through a repetition of trauma. Beyond that, they offer in depth studies of these responses and the reasons many of us react to trauma the way we do. 

One of Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s other books is: “Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change: A New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis,” which was published in 2003 by Routledge.  She received a Gradiva Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis for this book in 2004. 

A book description: “This book brings such distinctions into the consulting room, exploring how a successful analyst can help patients to utilize mourning for past troubles to move them forward to a lasting change for the better, emotionally, psychically and erotically. The author also tackles the controversial issue of spirituality in psychoanalysis, and explores how psychoanalysis can help patients come to terms with difficult issues in a time of great psychic and spiritual disturbance. These themes are brought to life via multiple richly detailed case studies.”

The purpose of this book is also to give readers a first-hand experience of what it’s like to work through the process of grieving with a psychotherapist to give them a better understanding of the benefits of working through one’s traumas and feelings of loss. 

One of Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s other books, “Anatomy of Regret: From Death Instinct to Reparation and Symbolization through Vivid Clinical Cases,” provides clinical illustrations of how the conscious processing of regret through a developmental mourning process can create critical turning points towards character change and psychological health in terms of the “Love-Creativity Dialectic.”

“The ability to feel conscious or ‘psychic’ regret is an important part of this navigation of aggression towards a developmental process of mourning primal object loss, and thus towards continuous psychological growth. Pivotal psychic changes essential to self transformation can be seen to evolve through the conscious engagement with one’s own formerly unconscious or dissociated regrets, to emerge into evocative and articulate descriptions of one’s own internal world,” Dr. Kavaler-Adler explained. 

Dr. Susan Kavaler Adler Psychologist Psychoanalyst

“Interiority, compassion, self-reflection, and self-agency all evolve through a developmental progression (with backlash reactions along the way) of affectively engaged stages of mourning (developmental mourning). Developmental mourning opens up a capacity for a psychic dialectic between one’s self-reflective and rational self and one’s internal world of feelings, thoughts, needs, and all one’s spontaneous internal life.”

Dr. Susan Kavaler Adler Psychologist Psychoanalyst

Regret and mourning often go hand in hand. In “Anatomy of RegretDr. Kavaler-Adler provides examples of clinical cases that focus on people who’ve made progress on their healing journey because they were able to face their consciousness of regrets they have in their life.  Rather than being sabotaged by repeating the same things that make them regret something over and over again, by unconsciously repressing those regrets, they accept and learn from them. 

“One of the biggest takeaways I want to give readers with this book is evidence of what facing your regrets head on can do for the mind, body, and spirit during the healing process. Embracing the parts of yourself that have made you repress your regret in the path can teach you how to revive and prevent yourself from repeating harmful patterns that stunt your growth.”

The Klein-Winnicott Dialectic: Transformative New Metapsychology and Interactive Clinical Theory” serves as a clinical textbook of case material that demonstrates the complementary use of the theoretical concepts of Melanie Klein (and her followers) and D.W. Winnicott. Psychobiographic material on the British theorists, Melanie Klein and D. W. Winnicott, is also included. 

“This material illustrates how the internalization of Klein’s relationship with her mother seems to have influenced her to cling to the metapsychological aspect of her theory as a “death instinct,” even though this ‘death instinct’ theory is not necessary to seriously employ her brilliant clinical theory. Melanie Klein’s clinical theory includes the understanding of the paranoid schizoid and depressive positions, which involve developmental movements towards symbolization through self-integration — in those formerly stuck in modes of proto-symbolic enactment.

Through my work I’ve realized that integrating, rather than polarizing, the theories of both Melanie Klein and D.W. Winnicott makes for the best clinical work, which is why we include both of the theories in the work we do with our patients at my institute. I presented the findings in this book in both London (2014) and Seoul (2006), which was so rewarding because both of these individuals have such polarizing viewpoints when it comes to mourning and loss.  However, by using the teachings of both, there’s a newfound level of success in working through one’s grief.”

In “Saturday Nights at Lafayette Grill: True Tales & Gossips of NY City Argentine Tango Scene” (2016), Dr. Kavaler-Adler brings the reader into the center of a worldwide cultural craze and passion, as it has developed and thrived in New York City since 1985, when the Broadway show ‘Tango Argentino’ first came to town, followed by ‘Forever Tango.’

“With a special dedication of the book and title to the Argentine tango cultural center formerly housed within a Greek restaurant, named ‘Lafayette Grill,’ this book offers 17 interviews with top Argentine tango professionals in NYC (all of whom frequented Lafayette Grill), who each speak of their Argentine tango dance and tango teaching philosophies; of their first interest in Argentine tango, and of their own development within the dance over time. 

Along with these psychological interviews, this book offers readers 19 anonymous essays, written by Argentine tango dancers, who contribute the main fabric of the social milieu of Argentine tango dancers gathered in the tango parties called milongas, within multiple dance studios and restaurants in NY City. These essays penetrate the internal life of the Argentine tango dancer, and therefore have a psychological focus. These essays also display for the reader the colorful and rich ambience of the Argentine tango world in NY City as a social and cultural environment.”

Dr. Kavaler-Adler is also celebrating the recent release of her newest volume, which is the 1st of 3 volumes of Selected articles, Selected Papers by Susan Kavaler-Adler Volume 1: Developmental Mourning, Erotic Transference, and Object Relations Psychoanalysis, currently available to order.

“Dr. Kavaler-Adler illustrates the power of the use of countertransference with poignant and healing effect, never more vividly than in her chapters on Group Therapy. In these chapters we witness the working through of primitive affects and developmental progressions embedded in the powerful dynamics of the group with Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s illuminating understanding through the lens of Developmental Mourning. We are indebted to International Psychoanalytic Books for bringing the works of one of the master clinicians of our time together in these collected volumes,” said Robert Grossmark, PhD, ABPP, author of The Unobtrusive Relational Analyst: Explorations in Psychoanalytic Companioning and The One and the Many: Relational Approaches to Group Psychotherapy.

“Using dance, writing, and other creative outlets as a means of helping my patients better understand their emotional responses is not only beneficial to their growth, but embraces their creative sides which for so many can become an outlet for their feelings. It can be hard to express yourself in times of trauma for a multitude of reasons, so by ‘roleplaying’ or taking on the roles of a dancer, writer, or any other creative title, you can separate yourself from your situation, while simultaneously learning how to express and analyze your own emotions.”

Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s theories of ‘developmental mourning’ versus the pathological mourning of “the demon-lover complex” draws on this primary theories of Freud, Klein, and other British theorists; while also demonstrating through extensive clinical cases, as well as through the psychological study of women artists and writers, how mourning plays out as the critical psychic change process, when the transformation of aggression is viewed as a critical part of that psychological transformation process.

“These theorists help me and other clinicians understand how critical the influence of the first three years of life can be in every current moment of experience, or defense against alive experience, today.”

Dr. Kavaler-Adler has a monthly writing group, which people have been able to use to create their own published works, or just to enjoy the process of writing.  Regardless of whether the individual is interested in publishing or not, the workshop gives them the outlet to work on their craft and hone in on their skill. Writing group members work on academic papers, poetry, non-fiction, memoirs, short stories, novels, and the vast range of fiction, and any other genre of writing where they feel the most comfortable expressing themselves. 

These writing workshops have become a place where everyone knows they have at least one day of the month when they’ll be in a space where they can openly express themselves and be heard by others, which is something that we all can benefit from. For writers, the concept of writer’s block can be used as a means of analyzing the emotional process of the writer as well, and the ways in which they’re blocking themselves off from experiencing the creativity they need to write their next project, or in a clinical setting, the ways in which they’re blocking themselves off from feeling all of their emotions.

Embracing your own creative process is an integral piece to knowing yourself and understanding your emotional processes. Getting feedback and validation, in part with that self-analysis, can provide a sense of safety and freedom within the individual as well, that can aid them in coping with loss, grief, mourning, and other heavy feelings that we all experience throughout our lives. 

“I’ve also run another monthly group for 30 years where I use meditative psychic visualization that I developed from my own intuitive visualization experiences. This group gives people the opportunity to close their eyes, breathe, and be guided through their own psyche to see who appears within their own internal world during certain guided meditations. This gives everyone the chance to talk to two internalized others. 

I also then move to the gut to see what it has to say to the individual, because that’s where the instinctual impact is; hunger, anger, rage, hatred. All of these intense feelings are expressed in the gut.  Through the guided meditation, ideally, the individual can see what their internal person has to say in response to these feelings. 

From the gut, we move to the heart, where I’ll ask the individual to see if there’s a connection between the heart and the internal person, and if so, to then express the feelings that come up. This allows the individual to feel the genuine emotions they have regarding a certain person or situation as opposed to just feeling based on instinct. 

Of course, everyone is different, and different methods of therapy may or may not work for someone.  Nevertheless, to have all of these different options presented to you that will give you some greater clarity into your own emotions and responses, is a part of the journey to heal. Knowing that if one thing doesn’t work, there’s a slew of other options to try will ideally provide a sense of relief when one is struggling to cope with grief, loss, and mourning.”

Dr. Kavaler-Adler explained how the benefit of these groups in general is that they all develop based on everyone sharing their personal experiences. This creates a level of safety in vulnerability through bonding and empathizing with one another. 

It can become so easy to feel alone in this life, especially in times of heartache and mourning. When we come together and speak to each other from a place of genuine human emotion, we realize that our experiences may differ, but our emotional responses and vulnerabilities aren’t so different. 

To learn more about the amazing work Dr. Kavaler-Adler has dedicated more than 40 years of her life to, check out her books, or read more about the intricacies of grieving and mourning as explained by her, check out her website here!  See 

Dr. Susan Kavaler Adler Psychologist Psychoanalyst