More about Complicated Grief /Prolonged Grief Disorder

Cyndia Shook, LCSW, LLC

Cyndia Shook, LCSW


Over the past 15 years, I have developed a special interest in how some clients are unable to transcend beyond "complicated grief" which is when moving through your grief is either avoided, obstructed or seemingly impossible. Until recently, there was no dedicated therapeutic approach for bereaved experiencing such a phenomenon. Complicated Grief is diagnosed when the following are present for six months or more:

  • A persistent, intense yearning for the person who died
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Intrusive thoughts and preoccupation with memories of the person who died
  • Strong emotions - such as sadness, guilt, anger and envy - that are difficult to control, as well as troubling thoughts associated with the death
  • Avoidance of situations that evoke painful reminders of the loss

Complicated Grief Treatment (CGT) as pioneered by Dr. Kay Shear of the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry, is a relatively new concept that helps many with CG make significant progress in only 16 sessions. Each session has a clear structure, much of which involves your telling and re-telling the story of when/how you first learned of the loss of your loved one. 

Studies have shown that, in doing so, we lower the intensity associated with this traumatic moment while also beginning to challenge the many things we have unconsciously avoided doing for fear of making our grief worse.

For example, clients will often state, "I can't bear to look at her clothes in the closet" or "I panic whenever I pass by the restaurant we used to go to regularly." While these are normal reactions to have shortly after the loss of a loved one, they can become debilitating when they result in avoidant behaviors lasting for many months or years afterwards. Some clients find that they set up such a pattern of avoidance of these triggers that relationships suffer, jobs become unmanageable and their mental health deteriorates as well. The goal, as Dr. Shear has developed in her CGT program, is to help one move from "acute grief" (equivalent to being in an emotional ICU) to "integrated grief" (managing your pain while also going forward with your life) where everything about the person who died is still remembered, but in ways that feel healthy, whole and much more peaceful.

 I am a believer in Complicated Grief Treatment as an effective, short-term program of treatment and offer it as one of my psychotherapy services. In fact, there is a demonstrated higher degree of success associated with it over that of standard psychotherapy or grief counseling. If you find that you have been "stuck" in your grieving for six months or longer, wherein you have felt little if any progress in your symptoms, CGT may be an effective treatment for you to consider.

For more about the Complicated Grief Treatment program at the Columbia University School of Social Work,  go to http://www.complicatedgrief-ny