Dr. Gloria Responds to Newsweek Article “Inside the Grieving Brain”

Dear Jamie Ryan,

Sorry to hear about you loss of Leah.

Thanks for pointing out the article by Jerry Adler, Newsweek, July 26, 2008

While we have not had a chance to review the reach of O’Connor and colleagues using an fMRI machine to probe the neurological basis for complicated grief. We find the idea that grief lasting more six month is “complicated” and therefore would qualify as a mental health issue to be on the silly side. We are always concerned about the fact that the DSM 4 states that it is complicated grief after six months. We hear that the DSM 5 is not going to be much better. Let’s face it the DSM classification system was started to make mental health look more like a hard science. Today it has become a cook book for getting insurance. A favorite of the mental health community is to give antidepressants for normal grieving. When you prescribe to bereaved people you can get in four clients and hour as opposed to one. If you are bereaved you can look at the classification in two ways. If you are already in therapy you have got to love the fact that your therapist may get paid by insurance for the next year or two. If you’re not in therapy and you are feeling crazy like we all do six months after losing a child or spouse or another significant relationship, it can make you angry that people think that you should not be “pouring over picture albums and talking about the person all the time.”

To my mind this connection is not “prolonged grief” but part of normal grieving, helping us to make meaning and to continue bonds with those that we love. Thank god after twenty-five years Heidi and I still remember Scott and can find a good laugh and even a good cry when the occasion warrants.

Fondly, Gloria

Dear Gloria & Heidi,
thanks always for your show- you’ve created a space where a reasonable conversation about living with grief can continue.

Because you two are experts in your field, I wanted to run an article by you. It alarms me, and if read right I think you’d like to see it too. It is, a Health Matters article, written by Jerry Adler “Inside the Grieving Brain” in Newsweek, Aug 4. Adler brings attention to researchers tendency to measure /quantify everything. In this case researchers (Mary-Francis O’Connor) use an MRI and link grieving to pleasure, reward, addiction! I’ve experenced all of those things and the 1st 3 are nothing like anything feel as I grieve for Leah.

Anyway as I read the article, DSM-V may use this type data to name “complicated grief.”

I’m interested in your take. Thanks again

PS: I’m happy Adler takes the additude he does!


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  • Marcia says:

    Six months is not a long time compared to loving and being with someone for forty-three years. I will always cherish my photo albums. This doesn’t mean I won’t go back to doing the artwork I enjoy and the company of my friends. It is a difficult process.

  • A Carroll says:

    You should at least know what the proposed diagnosis is before you comment. The six months is not correct. The criteria is as follows and is more than appropriate. It refers to those 10-20% of individuals who become unable to function as a result of their grief experience. It is NOT an attempt to pathologize normal grief. Those individuals need true help and in order to get appropriate help that is based on evidence based medicine it must be studied. Hence the need for definition and diagnosis. The criteria: the current experience (more than a year after a loss) of intense intrusive thoughts, pangs of severe emotion, distressing yearnings, feeling excessively alone and empty, excessively avoiding tasks reminiscent of the deceased, unusual sleep disturbances, and maladaptive levels of loss of interest in personal activities.