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Professor George Bonanno On Traumatic Loss and Bereavement

Assistant Professor George Bonanno, a scholar well-known for his work on bereavement and emotional issues, has recently published, with his colleagues, two new studies, Trauma and Bereavement: Examining the Impact of Sudden and Violent Deaths and Self-Enhancement as a Buffer Against Extreme Adversity: Civil War in Bosnia and Traumatic Loss in the United States.

Bonanno is currently seeking federal funding to apply this research to the families of victims of the attack on the World Trade Center. He and his colleagues are interested, after some time has passed, in assessing families that have lost a loved one for symptoms of traumatic grief and in offering them treatment that targets those symptoms. They are also interested in speaking to people who are doing well to find out what they are doing that is helping them cope.

With Stacey Kaltman, Ph.D., of The Catholic University of America, Bonanno explored the relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) other psychological effects associated with loss. They found that the violent death of a loved one tended to produce PTSD symptoms in those who were grieving.

This type of loss was associated with a more severe response to grief and an enduring depression following the loss. These results, the researchers say, indicate the importance of looking at the different ways that people grieve and that treatment should take into consideration more than just the depression and symptoms of grief that are commonly associated with loss.

Bonanno's work with Nigel P. Field of the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, Azemina Kovacevic of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Stacey Kaltman of the University of Maryland School of Medicine supported the theory that an unrealistic and overly positive view of the self can serve as a buffer against extreme adversity. Bonanno's study showed that in the case of individuals who are grieving the traumatic loss of a spouse, an overly positive sense of self was an important part of being able to adjust, and this was especially true for more adverse losses.

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