‘Exposure therapy’ helps patients with prolonged grief
(Reuters Health) – Adding one-on-one sessions focused on reliving the experience of losing a loved one to regular group therapy appears to help more patients with prolonged grief, according to a new study.
Most people who lose a loved one feel stress, grieve and adapt over time. But seven to 10 percent of people get stuck in the grief phase and have persistent yearning for the deceased, difficulty in accepting the death, a sense of meaninglessness, bitterness about the death and difficulty in engaging in new activities, said lead author Richard A. Bryant of the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.
People with these symptoms for at least six months may be diagnosed with Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD), although that is a relatively new diagnosis and still controversial for some psychologists, Bryant said.
“At the moment, many doctors are probably treating them with antidepressants but we know this is quite different from depression,” Bryant told Reuters Health.
Exposure therapy, which emphasizes reliving and processing painful memories and feelings, is the “treatment of choice” for people with post traumatic stress disorder, according to Bryant (see Reuters Health story of July 17, 2013 here: reut.rs/1rrKXJP).
Others have tried to adapt exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to prolonged grief, which has been successful, though having patients relive the death of a loved one is also a painful process, Bryant said.
“What this study did is try to answer the question: do you really need to do that to treat grief?” he said.
The study included 80 patients with PGD who all received 10 weekly two-hour group therapy sessions using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques, like learning to manage avoidance and rumination about the death, learning distraction techniques and cultivating positive memories and new goals for the future.
They also received four individual one-hour therapy sessions. Half of the group continued with CBT techniques, while the other half began exposure therapy focused on facing grief head-on and integrating the loss into memory.
In exposure therapy, the patient spent 40 minutes giving a first-person, present tense account of the death of the person, including their
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