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Negative Views Of Grief Counseling Are Not Substantiated By Research

Armen Hareyan's picture

Grief Counseling

Despite frequent claims to the contrary, there is no empirical or statistical evidence to suggest that grief counseling is harmful to clients, or that clients who are "normally" bereaved are at special risk if they receive grief counseling.

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A report published in 2000 claiming that 38 percent of clients (and close to 50 percent of so-called "normal" grievers) deteriorate as a result of grief counseling has been frequently cited in the scientific literature. The new review, by co-authors Dale G. Larson, PhD, of Santa Clara University and William T. Hoyt, PhD, of University of Wisconsin-Madison, found that the data on which these figures are based have never been published and came from a student dissertation that was never peer-reviewed, using a statistical technique attributed to another student's master's thesis, also never peer-reviewed.

The new findings are reported in the August issue of Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

The belief that conventional grief interventions are potentially harmful has become common wisdom among bereavement researchers in the seven years since the published report, and has been featured in the national media. Larson and Hoyt reviewed published and unpublished meta-analyses of more than 50 outcome studies and solicited the assistance of the APA to conduct a peer review of the dissertation on which this claim was based. Reviewers were unanimous in their conclusion that the statistical analysis on which deterioration claims were based is fatally flawed.

Larson and Hoyt documented the spread of the deterioration claims from specialty journals to journals aimed at a wider audience of social psychologists and general psychologists, and note that authors of these articles cited the published summary rather than the student dissertation. This implied that authors citing the finding never examined the data on which it was based, they said.