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Research on Traumatic Loss and Bereavement Published by George Bonanno


Research on Traumatic Loss and Bereavement Published by George Bonanno

Professor George Bonanno

Assistant Professor George Bonanno, who studies 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 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.

Bereavement Over a Violent Death May Include Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

With Stacey Kaltman 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. What constitutes a traumatic event, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders of the American Psychiatric Association, is "experiencing, witnessing, or being confronted with actual or threatened death, injury, or threat to the physical integrity of oneself or other people."

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.

PTSD symptoms, if left untreated, can become chronic. The symptoms can include responses such as trying to avoid thinking or talking about the trauma, or reliving the experience and experiencing anxiety over situations that are reminders of the event or the deceased. Other symptoms can include sudden unpleasant thoughts and memories popping into one's head unexpectedly and without an obvious reason. Jumpiness, inability to sleep, being easily startled, or unusual anger and irritability may also occur.

This study will appear in The Journal of Anxiety Disorders.

An Overly Positive Sense of Self Helps in Coping with Traumatic Events and the Adverse Loss of a Loved One

Bonanno's work with Nigel P. Field of the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, Azemina Kovacevic of Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Stacey Kaltman, reported on two studies-one involving Americans grieving the traumatic loss of a spouse or loved one, and the other involving traumatic effects of the civil war in Bosnia. The researchers compared a traditional view of mental health, which assumes that a realistic appraisal of oneself is necessary to adapt to adverse conditions, with more recent theorizing that an unrealistic and overly positive view of the self can serve as a buffer against extreme adversity.

The study supported the more recent theorizing and showed that exaggerated self-enhancement led to a better capacity to make adjustments when coping with extremely stressful events. 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. While individuals with high self-enhancement were found to be frequently viewed unfavorably by others, the findings of the study indicate that nonetheless, they have a distinct coping advantage, particularly under extreme conditions.

This study is due to appear in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

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