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Newly developed treatment for severe grief shown more effective than standard therapy

A recently developed method for treating complicated grief, which includes discussing certain aspects of the death of a loved one, was found more effective than a standard therapy for depression, according to a study in the June 1 issue of JAMA.

Many physicians are uncertain about how to identify bereaved individuals who need treatment, and what treatments work for bereavement-related mental health problems, according to background information in the article. Bereavement-related major depressive disorder (MDD) is a well-recognized consequence of loss. Complicated grief also occurs in the aftermath of loss but is different from depression. Key features of complicated grief, persisting more than 6 months after the death of a loved one, include (1) a sense of disbelief regarding the death; (2) anger and bitterness over the death; (3) recurrent pangs of painful emotions, with intense yearning and longing for the deceased; and (4) preoccupation with thoughts of the loved one, often including distressing intrusive thoughts related to the death.

Complicated grief is a source of significant distress and impairment and is associated with a range of negative health consequences, but the results of existing treatments for it have been disappointing. Prevalence rates are estimated at approximately 10 percent to 20 percent of bereaved persons. Approximately 2.5 million people die yearly in the United States. Estimates suggest each death leaves an average of 5 people bereaved, suggesting that more than 1 million people per year are expected to develop complicated grief in the United States.

Given observations regarding the specificity and clinical significance of complicated grief symptoms, including the lack of response to standard treatments for depression, the researchers developed a targeted complicated grief treatment (CGT). They modified standard interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) for grief-related depression to include cognitive-behavioral th
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Contact: Lisa Rossi
412-647-3555
JAMA and Archives Journals
31-May-2005


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