A Therapy That Helps Get Never-Ending Grievers 'Unstuck'

Some people can't stop feeling sorrow; this psychiatrist has therapy just for 'complicated grief'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 17, 2016 4:40 PM CST
CGT guides patients to confront their grief through "exposure therapy."   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – The grieving process is never a simple one, but for some, it becomes never-ending and debilitating—what psychiatrists call "complicated grief." Andrea Volpe delves for Digg into this more emotionally intense form of bereavement: a deep, unceasing sorrow affecting no more than 3% of the population, overtaking women more than men, and usually following the death of a romantic partner, the loss of a child, or the abrupt or violent death of a loved one. Volpe explores the various ways society has so far suggested we deal with a great loss, from Freud's theory that grief is hard psychological work that needs dedicated time, to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' "five stages of grief" mode (the default resource of sorts) for people in emotional pain, to the dual-process paradigm, in which people alternate between dealing with their grief and putting it aside, so hope "returns gradually."

But Volpe notes that because everyone grieves differently, and for different lengths of time, it can be hard to treat complicated grief. Enter Katherine Shear, a CGT (complicated grief therapy) pioneer. CGT, which Shear has been using since the mid-'90s, is a highly structured, intense method that combines cognitive behavior therapy with "exposure therapy." That includes the hard stuff like taking part in activities that remind you of a lost loved one or recounting the day that person died—i.e., asking patients to "go toward the grief." As Volpe puts it, grief is a "problem of narrative," where people get frozen in one part of the story. CGT helps the patient get "unstuck" and take control of plotting the tale so he or she can "begin to imagine a new story" and resume living. Read more about this unusually deep type of sorrow, including why Shear wants it categorized as a grief disorder in the DSM—and why others don't. (Patton Oswalt offers a glimpse into his own grief after the sudden loss of his wife.)

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