Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Clinical Psychology

Department or School/College

Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Gyda Swaney

Commitee Members

Nadine Wisniewski, Danielle Wozniak


University of Montana


Most studies exploring bereavement/grief have focused upon the US’s majority culture. These study findings have contributed to the existing bereavement theories regarding grief and coping by providing broad and general information to researchers and clinicians. Previous research has found that an individual’s experience of grief and ability to cope with death is affected by a combination of situational factors (e.g., anticipated death vs. sudden death), personal factors (e.g., age), and interpersonal factors (e.g., availability of social support). The literature suggests that understanding cultural differences among bereaved clients should be considered by clinicians. Despite such cautions few studies without theoretical preconception have attempted to identify and understand details of American Indian (AI) peoples’ experience of bereavement or grief.

The current study utilized a qualitative, grounded-theory approach to identify and explore the coping strategies used by 12 adult AI people living in or near Missoula, MT, who experienced the death of a family member within a 1 -5 year time period. Participants’ coping behaviors were relational (i.e., spiritual, family, physical/psychological health, place, work/school, and community), and were components of cultural coping, the core category. Three factors were identified as important in determining the depth of grief experienced by participants, which influenced their use of cultural coping: a) experiencing the anticipated death of a family member versus the sudden death of a family member, b) physical distance from the dying or deceased family member (i.e., proximity); and c) the participants’ age/generation compared to their deceased family member’s age/generation.

With the exception of specific behaviors/rituals, coping (i.e., spiritual, family, physical/psychological health, and community, place and work/school) used by participants was similar to coping found in other studies. However, the connection between coping used by participants and the traditional significance their culture places upon other people and their environment uniquely highlight this study. Further utilization of qualitative methods to explore bereavement/grief could provide AI and scientific communities with practical information free of preconceived concepts. Suggestions for future research include: AIs communication of bereavement tradition; AI views regarding non-AI cultural coping behaviors; AI interaction with the healthcare system/health care workers; and AIs use of humor during bereavement.



© Copyright 2009 William Henry Shunkamolah