Last updated on 1st February 2016
I was struck by a couple of papers on grief that I read last year. One was Kathy Shear & colleagues' "Treatment of complicated grief in elderly persons: a randomized clinical trial" and the other was Bryant et al's "Treating prolonged grief disorder: a randomized clinical trial." I was impressed because Shear's paper showed clear benefits of one treatment over a valid active comparison treatment. Trials showing better outcomes of treatments that have been compared with "treatment as usual" (TAU) or "waiting list control" are two a penny. However an intervention that produces an obviously better outcome than a valid alternative intervention makes me sit up and take notice. Add to that the Bryant research ... a different set of investigators on another continent showing the importance of active trauma processing over and above standard treatment for prolonged grief. Mm ... this looks important. I'm 65 years old and have been involved in psychotherapy for over 40 years. New treatments come and go like the seasons. They look good and produce encouraging outcomes. Time and again though, when researched by different investigators and compared with currently most effective approaches, the new kid on the block turns out to be a "me too" ... an adequate treatment, but really no better than what we had before. Genuinely more effective methods should be viewed with a lot of respect. They don't come along very often. As an aside, it's interesting that the Bryant paper showed better outcomes for both depression and functioning in the group who received a trauma-processing component over and above more standard CBT ... so it wasn't just obviously trauma type symptoms that responded better to the more emotionally challenging intervention.
I'd known about Professor Kathy Shear's impressive work for many years. She reports her research interests as Complicated grief research, Complicated grief and the DSM-5, Bereavement and grief, Psychotherapy research, Anxiety disorders, Adult separation anxiety disorder, and Women's mental health. Her Center for Complicated Grief website puts out a newsletter and is rich in useful links and other helpful resources. Anyway I decided to contact her department at Columbia University to ask if Kathy was running any workshops in Europe this year. Yup, she's a patron of the Irish Hospice Foundation and is putting on a two day workshop in Dublin on the treatment of Complicated Grief. I wrote to the Irish Hospice Foundation, booked in, and here I am ... before breakfast on the first day of this two day training.
It's lovely to be back in Dublin for the first time for many years. The forecast for today is good and my hotel is less than half an hour's walk from the workshop location. I can hear the building's plumbing gurgling as other guests start to get up. We have been sent an impressive but somewhat daunting selection of workshop slides via Dropbox. They're arranged in ten groupings and their titles give some idea of the journey we'll be going on over these two days ... Introduction (19 slides), Diagnosis and Assessment (37 slides), CGT Birds Eye View (37), Getting Started (45), Building Support (32), Aspirational Goals (35), Core Revisiting Sequence (15), More About Revisiting (11), Situational Revisiting (18), and Memories (14 slides). Gosh, well over 250 slides and I think we may not even have the full workshop collection yet. Glancing through some of this material is exciting. I'm a single-handed private practitioner who mainly sees distressed adults with a whole gamut of problem presentations. I don't see many people primarily presenting with grief. My hope is that this workshop will increase my ability to help people struggling after bereavement. However my hopes are also much broader than this. I'm fascinated to hear how Kathy includes material derived from attachment, self-determination, and positive psychology in her grief treatment. I incorporate these ideas into my more general work. I'm fascinated too about putting together approaches that use both trauma-processing and other less emotion-focused interventions. I think this has potential application for treatment of many anxiety & other disorders. Rich opportunities here. Time to get going ...
And click through to see a post on the first day of the workshop.