Reliving the death of a close friend or family member may reduce the experience of long-term grief, according to a new study in JAMA Psychiatry.
The study assigned 80 people who had lost a loved one within the past few years to a 10-week regimen of cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of them were also assigned to exposure therapy, in which patients were made to relive the death of the loved one. Nearly 38% of those who did not get the additional exposure therapy showed symptoms of prolonged grief disorder, which includes yearning for the person who’s gone, bitterness about accepting the death and difficulty in engaging in life. Only 15% of those people who got the extra treatment showed signs of it.
Painful as it is, reliving a death may improve a patient’s ability to process loss and adapt to it, the study suggests.
“Including exposure therapy that promotes emotional processing of memories of the death is an important component to achieve optimal reduction in [grief] severity,” the study reads. “Despite the distress elicited by engaging with memories of the death, this strategy does not lead to aversive responses.”
Though researchers acknowledge some limitations, the study’s implications suggest some changes in the way doctors approach treatment for those in grief.
“Reluctance to engage with their distressing emotions may be a major reason for not managing the grief more effectively,” the study reads. “The challenge is to foster better education of clinicians through evidence-supported interventions to optimize adaption to the loss as effectively as possible.”