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MBCT and grief therapy offer similar acute relief for prolonged grief

31 May 2024 9:34 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

Up to 10% of bereaved people suffer from prolonged grief disorder, characterized by persistent yearning for lost loved ones and emotional pain that interferes with daily living. Grief-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (GF-CBT) has been shown to be more effective than either antidepressant medication or interpersonal psychotherapy in reducing grief symptoms.

However, many bereaved individuals have trouble tolerating GF-CBT’s emphasis on actively recalling their loved one’s death. Up to 25% of those offered GF-CBT decline it, while up to 50% fail to respond, and 22% find it excessively challenging. 

For this reason, the search continues for therapies for bereaved people who cannot tolerate or fail to respond to GF-CBT. Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), proven somewhat effective in treating some forms of depression presents one such possibility.

Bryant et al. [JAMA Psychiatry] compared the effects of GF-CBT and MBCT in reducing prolonged grief symptoms in patients with prolonged grief disorder.

The researchers randomly assigned 100 Australian patients with prolonged grief disorder (average age=47 years; 87% female; 71% white) to either GF-CBT or MBCT. Both programs consisted of 90-minute, weekly individual sessions over an 11-week period. GF-CBT entailed didactic training, thought monitoring, and revisiting memories of the loved one’s death. Participants were instructed to reframe maladaptive grief-related thoughts, write letters to the deceased, and cultivate positive memories of them.

The standard MBCT protocol was modified to focus on problematic grief. MBCT participants were assigned 40 minutes of daily homework. 

Assessments were conducted at baseline, post-treatment, and 6-month follow-up using a primary outcome measure of prolonged grief symptoms. Secondary outcomes involved the assessment of mental health symptoms, grief-related cognition, and quality of life. The primary prolonged grief measure assessed symptoms such as loneliness, numbness, meaninglessness, emotional detachment, obsessive thoughts of loss, avoidance of loss reminders, and disengagement from life.

The results showed that at 6 months, the GF-CBT group had significantly greater reductions in prolonged grief symptoms (Cohen’s d=0.80), depressive symptoms (d=0.60), and grief related cognitions (d=0.70) compared to the MBCT group.

Both groups showed clinical improvements in prolonged grief, depression, and grief-related cognitions. For example, the GF-CBT group’s prolonged grief symptoms decreased from 43.6 points to 28.7 points while the MBCT group’s symptoms decreased from 40.6 to 32.8 points.

The superiority of GF-CBT was not apparent at post-treatment but emerged at the 6-month follow-up. Both groups had significant reductions in anxiety and improvements in quality of life, without significant differences between groups.

The study demonstrates that both MBCT and GF-CBT can reduce symptoms of prolonged grief immediately after treatment, but GF-CBT shows greater effectiveness at 6-month follow-up. The study is limited by its not including an analysis of home practice during and after treatment. Further, only 60% participants from each treatment group were retained at the 6-month follow-up.


Bryant, R. A., Azevedo, S., Yadav, S., ... Dawson, K. S. (2024). Cognitive Behavior Therapy vs Mindfulness in Treatment of Prolonged Grief Disorder: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA Psychiatry. 

Link to study

American Mindfulness Research Association, LLC. 

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