PITTSBURGH, May 31 Each year in the United States, approximately 2.5 million people die, each leaving behind, on average, five grieving survivors. Many of these survivors more than a million people each year develop a chronic, debilitating condition known as complicated grief that is more intense than normal grief, yet differs from clinical depression. Despite complicated grief being so prevalent, it has been under recognized and under treated. But according to a University of Pittsburgh study reported in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, a new treatment approach could help millions of adults who needlessly suffer.
Complicated grief treatment (CGT), which was developed by the study authors specifically to address complicated grief symptoms, was found to be significantly more effective than a comparison psychotherapy, interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT), in the treatment of complicated grief. Over the course of the three-year study, 51 percent of participants treated with CGT significantly improved, compared with 28 percent who improved following IPT. Patients being treated with CGT also responded to the therapy significantly faster.
While IPT is a treatment that has proven to be effective for depression and can be specifically focused for bereavement-related depression in clinical practice, it appeared to be less effective in treating complicated grief. So, the authors enhanced IPT to create complicated grief treatment unique in its two-pronged approach in which therapists simultaneously guide patients to focus both on the loss and on rebuilding their own lives.
"The bereavement process can go awry, and in 15 to 20 percent of all people who are surviving a loss, it does," said Katherine Shear, M.D., principa