Dying or living? The double bind

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7 Scopus citations


Describing the behaviors of terminally ill patients, their families and those charged with their care has received considerable attention during the past decade. This study of a comprehensive cancer treatment and research facility indicates that the prevailing theory is limited to explanation at the intra-psychic level. In her work with hundreds of terminal cases, Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross found that patients typically progress through five stages: 1) denial, 2) anger, 3) bargaining, 4) depression, and 5) acceptance. She concludes that the majority of her patients die in a stage of acceptance - a state of equanimity. Recently, scholars have claimed that this five stage scheme has limited applicability and may in fact contribute to the formalization of a dying person's behavior. This preliminary report proposes that the stage theory, if it has any descriptive validity, becomes meaningful only when used to describe behaviors occurring among patients, families, and medical practitioners. A plausible explanation of these behaviors is accomplished by examination of communication patterns containing the structure of paradox or double bind. Patients are forced to perceive realities about their physical conditions not as they appear to them, but as they are defined by those in their environment. This paper explores these communication patterns in relation to the structure of social relationships and the speck contents of messages being transmitted and received.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-136
Number of pages18
JournalCulture, medicine and psychiatry
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1980
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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