From the Internalization of Object to New Relationship---The Italian American Experience of Grief and Mourning

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Length: 50 minutes

***No slides made available by presenters***

Session offered by Division 39.

Some psychodynamic writers on loss and grief have followed Freud’s early injunction to analyze and withdraw cathexes from the lost object in order to face reality and recover (Baker, 2001; Freud, 1957). A progression away from this “detachment” perspective toward a process more inclusive of the lost object has developed as psychoanalytic thinking has become more object focused and relational (Baker, 2001). For many cultural groups, death and grieving are experienced in such a way that Freud’s original notions of adaptation are not adequate and, in fact, could compound the loss. For Italian-Americans, grieving may take a more relational slant, as is noted in the conclusion that “Italians tend to keep their dead with them” (Giordano, McGoldrick, & Klages, 2005) or the emphasis on continuity after death (Bona, 2010). This symposium explores Italian-American experiences of grief and death from a broadly dynamic lens. The Italian-American model of continuing connections to lost loved ones while living in the present can influence current views on grief and inform how mourning is processed in the clinical encounter.

Several sources about the Italian-American experience, including history of mourning practices, interviews with cultural informants, clinical work, memoir and poetry are used. The first presentation briefly introduces a theoretical framework. The second addresses strength of relational connections persisting after death through memoir, poetry, and mourning practices, utilizing attachment theory. The third focuses on the successful integration of the mourning process, one via the narrative of a 102-year-old Italian-American woman who used art as object, and the other via a clinical case of a 52-year-old Italian-American woman who processed the death of her mother in treatment. The study of Italian American experience of death and grief can expand theory further in the direction of forging a new relationship, internally and externally, with the lost person.

Learning Objective 1
Articulate and understand varying psychodynamic concepts of loss and mourning.

Learning Objective 2
Comprehend how the cultural perspective of Italian-Americans, and other ethnic groups, on loss and mourning, might usher in a new, more connected and relational way of viewing the experience of loss and death.

Presenters: Lorraine Mangione, PhD; Anne E. Pidano, PhD; Donna H. DiCello, PsyD