How To Move On

Just as with depression or PTSD, complicated grief shouldn't be ignored. Individuals with the condition aren't likely to get better on their own, plus they're at risk for physical health problems and have a higher suicide rate. If you think you may be experiencing symptoms, talk with your doctor or a mental health professional to discuss ways to treat it.

Although antidepressants are often ineffective, some research points to psychotherapy techniques used in treating PTSD as being helpful. A 2005 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association compared standard psychotherapy with a specially designed complicated-grief treatment in 95 adults suffering from the disorder.

In the complicated-grief treatment, the therapist informed participants about normal and complicated grief and discussed "adaptive coping" (adjusting to the loss, restoring one's own sense of having a satisfying life, and regaining interest in the future). The participants' trauma-like symptoms were addressed with techniques similar to exposure therapy.

Specifically, the therapist guided them in "revisiting" the death (retelling the story, listening to a recording of that story, and having an imagined conversation with the deceased) and in confronting avoided situations and activities. They were then guided in developing goals for their future and concrete plans for putting those goals into action. At the end of the study, 51 percent of the participants in the complicated-grief treatment had improved compared with 28 percent of those in the interpersonal psychotherapy group.

Staying physically active and maintaining social relationships may also help prevent complicated grief, as can joining a support group for bereaved people. Talking with others who’ve experienced similar grief may help you cope with your own loss and form new friendships.

Finally, remember that the end of the grieving process does not mean the end of sadness. It’s often natural—especially when you’ve lost a spouse or close relative—for sadness to last a lifetime. But when you can accept the loss and look forward to the future, you're ready to stop grieving.

Publication Review By: Karen L. Swartz, M.D.

Published: 20 Aug 2013

Last Modified: 20 Aug 2013