Complicated grief therapy for clinicians: An evidence-based protocol for mental health practice

Depress Anxiety. 2020 Jan;37(1):90-98. doi: 10.1002/da.22965. Epub 2019 Oct 17.


In the United States alone, about 10 million persons are newly bereaved each year. Most do not require professional intervention or treatment, but many can benefit from targeted support. However, a significant minority of bereaved persons experience intense, prolonged and disabling grief symptoms associated with considerable morbidity and mortality (aka, "Complicated Grief"). Individuals with Complicated Grief require more formal interventions. In this article, we describe a compassionate and evidence-based approach to bereavement-care that can be provided in varied mental health settings. For individuals struggling with acute grief, clinicians can help by providing recognition and acceptance of the grief, eliciting and compassionately listening to their narratives of their relationship with the deceased and the death, and regularly "checking in" regarding their grief experiences. For bereaved persons who are experiencing Complicated Grief, we recommend an evidence-based approach to bereavement-care, complicated grief therapy (CGT), that involves helping the individual accept and cope with the loss while simultaneously assisting them with adaptation to life without the deceased. We describe ways of implementing CGT's seven core themes: (1) understanding and accepting grief, (2) managing painful emotions, (3) planning for a meaningful future, (4) strengthening ongoing relationships, (5) telling the story of the death, (6) learning to live with reminders, and (7) establishing an enduring connection with memories of the person who died. This work can be done in a variety of settings, taking into consideration the needs of the patient, the limitations of the setting, and the skills and experiences of each clinician.

Keywords: bereavement; complicated grief; grief; therapy; treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Bereavement*
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / psychology
  • Depression / therapy
  • Evidence-Based Practice / methods*
  • Grief*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health / education*
  • Psychology / education*