Overcoming the debilitating loss of a loved one

Complicated Grief (CG) is a debilitating clinical syndrome that can develop in the aftermath of the death of a loved one, but little is known about it. A paper published in the current issue of Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice is the first to offer a conceptualization of CG which can be used as a framework for its underlying conditions and for cognitive-behavioral treatment strategies. CG is defined as a combination of separation distress and traumatic distress that causes persistent and significant problems in a person's functioning for at least six months following a death. The authors explain that, at the core of CG, the loss is poorly integrated into memory. Patients often experience the separation as very distinct, significant, and emotional as if it was new.

Many have the sense that the loved one is still alive or bound to return soon. They continue to engage in automatic responses aimed at restoring closeness to the deceased and withdraw from social and recreational activities.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy for CG aims to alleviate symptoms by accomplishing three goals: the loss needs to be processed and integrated into autobiographical knowledge, problematic beliefs and interpretations need to be identified and changed, and avoidance strategies need to be replaced to aid adjustment. The authors hope their conceptualization will facilitate research on CG and will help others who fail to recover from loss.


This study is published in the current issue of Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice. Media wishing to receive a PDF of this article please contact [email protected]

Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice presents cutting-edge developments in the science and practice of clinical psychology by publishing scholarly topical reviews of research, theory, and application to diverse areas of the field, including assessment, intervention, service delivery, and professional issues. It is published on behalf of the Society of Clinical Psychology, Division 12 of the American Psychological Association.

Paul A. Boelen is an assistant professor at the Department of Clinical and Health Psychology of Utrecht University in The Netherlands, a psychotherapist at the Ambulatorium of Utrecht University, and in a private practice. His research has focused on the assessment and cognitive behavioral theory and treatment of Complicated Grief. Dr. Boelen is available for media questions and interviews.

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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