Complicated grief helped by cognitive restructuring and exposure therapy

The death of a loved one can precipitate the devastating clinical condition known as “complicated grief” (CG). In a study reported in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, maladaptive thinking and behaviors were described as significant contributors to CG. The effectiveness of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) was compared with nonspecific supportive counseling (SC). In this study, CBT methods included cognitive restructuring and exposure.

People suffering with CG often avoid reminders of the loss, which, the authors suggested, “is a key maintaining factor in CG.” Recovery was aided when patients “gradually confront these reminders and elaborate on the implications of the loss.” For example, patients were asked to recount the story of the loss, and therapists identified aspects that were particularly distressing. Homework assignments were aimed at gradually increasing exposure to the reality of the loss.

The study results showed CBT to be more effective than SC and the authors concluded that helping patients to confront and work through the loss is important in treating CG.

Study authors: P. A. Boelen, J. de Keijser, M. A. van den Hout, J. van den Bout