Treatment for Complicated Grief: State of the Science and Ways Forward

Bettina K. Doering, Maarten C. Eisma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)
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Purpose of review: There is increasing recognition that a minority of bereaved persons experiences persistent and disabling grief symptoms, also termed complicated grief (CG). We review currently proposed criteria for CG in DSM 5 and ICD-11, highlight controversies with regard to establishing CG as a psychiatric disorder, summarize recent CG treatment research within a cognitive behavioral treatment framework, and establish a novel, systematic research agenda for CG treatment.
Recent findings: Clinicians should be wary of overdiagnosis and misdiagnosis of CG. Recent changes to definitions of CG may threaten generalizability and clinical application of research findings. Universal treatment, treatment for at-risk groups, and preventive CG treatment appear ineffective. Although medication is often prescribed to bereaved persons, evidence for its effectiveness is equivocal. Face-to-face and internet-based CBT techniques appear most effective in targeting CG. However, little is known about what, how, and for whom treatment works best.
Summary: In light of these findings, we recommend systematic investigation of: what works best in CG treatment, by conducting well-designed, stepped effectiveness trials and treatment component dismantling studies; how it works, by conducting investigations on therapeutic theories and examining mediators of therapeutic change; and for whom it works, by examining potential moderators of treatment effects.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)286-291
Number of pages6
JournalCurrent Opinion in Psychiatry
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2016


  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Complicated Grief
  • Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder
  • Prolonged Bereavement Disorder
  • Psychotherapy


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