BERKELEY, Calif., April 17 Losing your home to foreclosurecan feel as traumatic as the death of a loved one. And with so many Americansfacing this dreaded possibility -- more than two million U.S. homeowners arecurrently in default, according to USA TODAY (Nov. 11, 2007) -- it's importantto acknowledge the psychological effects as well as the financial andpractical ones.
In her seminal book On Death and Dying, psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Rossidentified five stages that dying patients commonly experience when given aterminal prognosis: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
"Not everyone goes through these stages in the same order," says Dr. JeffWood, licensed psychologist and author of Getting Help. "People experiencingforeclosure, while it's not a life-threatening scenario, will have similarsymptoms," he added.
Denial. "People commonly ignore the first warning signs of impendingforeclosure -- the missed payment, the call from the lender, even the formal'Notice of Default' that is the prelude to a foreclosure sale," says StephenElias, President of the Bankruptcy Law Project and author of Nolo's The NewBankruptcy: Will it Work for You? He adds, "Envelopes go unopened, notices gounread, and phone messages are quickly erased. If you're like many homeowners,learning that you might be facing foreclosure triggers fear of ending up inthe street."
It's important to remember that foreclosure is an orderly process, Eliassays. You'll get notice before the process starts and before the house iseventually sold, if it comes to that. It usually takes the lender quite awhile to get the property into the hands of a new owner. Even then, in moststates, the new owner has to give you a notice to leave, typically 30 days. Inother words, you'll almost certainly have plenty of time to make new shelterarrangements.
"Avoidance," explains Wood, "is the core element of most anxietydisorders." While losing your home can be traumatic, avoiding the realitywon't help your state of mind.
Anger. "When it finally dawns on homeowners that they might actually losetheir house, they become angry -- with themselves, their spouse, or thelender," says Elias. "After all, it must be someone's fault that they signed avariable interest note that would reset much higher in a year or two, or thatthey bought a house they obviously couldn't afford."
Bargaining. Anger gives way to negotiation. People may try to strike abargain with God -- "please just let me keep my house, and I'll get a betterjob and work harder and be a better person. ..."
Depression. As the foreclosure proceeds with no solution in sight, it'snatural to be unhappy and feel insecure. They may feel that things arehopeless -- and so miss out on opportunities to fight the foreclosure or makethe best financial decisions given the circumstances.
Acceptance. A homeowner who accepts the situation, and can move beyonddenial, anger, and depression, can take steps to fix things. Even people whoare behind on the mortgage may be able to keep their houses. Their first stepshould be to call a free, nonprofit foreclosure counselor, approved by theU.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, for help in workingsomething out with the lender. You can find a HUD-approved agency athttp://www.hud.gov/foreclosure/index.cfm or by calling 800-569-4287. (Nolo'sBankruptcy Resource Center) has helpful articles on a variety of situationsrelated to foreclosure. Additionally, bankruptcy or real estate attorneys maybe able to offer creative solutions to keep people in their homes. Informationabout local attorneys can often be found through Nolo's new, free LawyerDirectory, which provides profiles of local lawyers (nolo.com).
Psychologists use a term called "radical acceptance," says Dr. Wood. "Youdon't have to like something, or agree it's a good thing. But the sooneryou'