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Overcoming loss: national study on therapy for prolonged grief

A specific type of psychotherapy for people suffering from prolonged grief disorder is the focus of a new national study that will be led by Prof. Dr. Rita Rosner (Chair of Clinical and Biological Psychology at the Catholic University of Eichstätt-Ingolstadt) over the next three years. Psychologists at the KU will collaborate with researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt, Philipps-Universität Marburg, and Leipzig University Hospital on this project. People experiencing symptoms of prolonged grief disorder can seek treatment at the study centers at the KU and at its partner institutions. The German Research Foundation is funding the study with around one million euros for the next three years.


During a meeting of the study coordinators at the KU the therapists who will be responsible for giving treatment at the four study centers received detailed information on how the study will be conducted. (Photo: Schulte Strathaus/Press Office)

Grief is a normal process that helps those left behind to adjust to their new situation and to form a new emotional relationship to the person who has died. The initial state of shock after the death of a loved one is usually followed by a slow processing of emotions and acceptance of the loss. Over time, the emotional ‘peaks’ in grief slowly begin to subside. By contrast, people who develop prolonged grief disorder do not experience any significant improvement even after a longer period of time. Instead their longing for the deceased remains as strong as before, and they may feel bitter about the loss and associate a part of their identity with the deceased, feeling as if a part of them has died. In addition, they may avoid situations that remind them of the person who has died or fixate on their loss. Others may leave the deceased person’s room unchanged for years, for example. Medication does not have any effect on prolonged grief disorder. In Germany, around five percent of people who are grieving develop symptoms of this disorder.

Prolonged grief disorder is now recognized as a unique disorder that is distinct from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, and is set to be included in official classifications in the near future. ‘It is recommended that people seek treatment if severe psychological and physical symptoms continue to affect their day-to-day life more than six months after experiencing a loss,’ Prof. Dr. Rita Rosner explains. The types of therapy that are currently offered are rather unspecific. To counteract this problem, the research group adapted established methods used in psychotherapy to meet the specific needs of grieving patients. This resulted in two types of therapy that will be offered as part of the project. One focuses on the grief itself, while the other concentrates on the every-day difficulties that are caused by grief. The methods on which these therapies are based have already proven to be effective at treating various problems, but this is the first time that they have been adapted for grieving patients.

The treatment consists of 20 individual weekly sessions, and several follow-up sessions immediately after completing the therapy and then one year later. People aged between 18 and 75 who are suffering from physical and emotional problems after losing someone close to them can contact one of the four treatment centers that have been set up in Ingolstadt, Frankfurt, Marburg, and Leipzig as part of the project. They can make an appointment for a thorough examination and a consultation with the therapists in order to determine whether the treatment is suitable for them.

Further information and contact details are available at