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Navigating the Depths of Complicated Grief: Understanding, Coping, and Healing

Grief is an inevitable part of the human experience, and a natural response to the loss of loved ones in our lives. For most people the symptoms of grief tend to decrease over time, however, for some, grief can present in a continued and overwhelming manner leading to a condition known as complicated grief. Below we will explore the complexities of complicated grief, navigate its symptoms, impact, and treatment options for those who may be facing this challenging condition.

Understanding Complicated Grief vs. Typical Bereavement Grieving

Complicated grief (CG) is known by many names, it can be called prolonged grief disorder, traumatic grief, or persistent complex bereavement disorder. It is characterized by intense, persistent grieving and significant distress that impedes a person's ability to function and adapt to life after loss (APA, 2022).

An individual with complicated grief may experience a preoccupation of thoughts of a person who has died, or an intense longing for the person. While the typical grieving process usually lessens over time, complicated grief continues for an extended period, lasting six months or even longer. Understanding its characteristics can bring insight into the severity of impact complicated grief has in your, or a loved one's life.

For a diagnosis according to the APA (2022), the loss of a loved one had to have happened at least 1 year ago for adults. In addition, the grieving individual must have experienced at least three of the symptoms below nearly every day for at least the last month prior to the diagnosis.

Symptoms include:

  • Identity disruption (such as feeling as though part of oneself has died).

  • Marked sense of disbelief about the death.

  • Avoidance of reminders that the person is dead.

  • Intense emotional pain (The pain, sorrow, and longing for the deceased are profound and unyielding, making it difficult to find relief.) related to the death.

  • Difficulty with reintegration (such as problems engaging with friends, pursuing interests, future planning).

  • Emotional numbness (absence or marked reduction of emotional experience).

  • Feeling that life is meaningless.

  • Intense loneliness (feeling alone or detached from others).

Furthermore, the individual's grieving persists for a duration that exceeds what might be expected considering cultural, social, or religious norms.

Treatment for Complicated Grief

While feelings and symptoms of grief might occasionally intensify or increase at different times, they do not typically require mental health treatment. However, for people who develop the more intense, continuing, and prolonged symptoms of complicated grief, evidence-based treatments are available.

According to research Szuhany et al (2021) recommend treatments such as:

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT): By identifying and challenging negative thought patterns and behaviors, CBT can aid in healthier coping techniques.

Complicated Grief Therapy (CGT): Specially designed to address complicated grief, CGT focuses on processing emotions and memories while adjusting to life without the loved one.

Grief Counselling: This form of psychotherapy provides a safe space for individuals to express their emotions, thoughts, and feelings related to their loss.

Mindfulness-Based Therapy: Mindfulness practices help individuals become aware of their grief-related emotions without judgment, promoting effective coping.

Bereavement Support Groups: Engaging in support groups with others who have experienced similar losses provides social support and reduce isolation.

The choice of treatment and support should align with an individual's specific needs and preferences. If you or someone you know is experiencing complicated grief, seeking help from a mental health professional can be the essential first step. They can provide an assessment and create a personalized treatment plan. Together, with understanding and compassionate support, you can navigate the depths of complicated grief and find a path towards healing.


American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR). American Psychiatric Association Publishing.

Szuhany, K. L., Malgaroli, M., Miron, C. D., & Simon, N. M. (2021). Prolonged Grief Disorder: Course, Diagnosis, Assessment, and Treatment. Focus (American Psychiatric Publishing), 19(2), 161–172.

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