Monday, June 6, 2016

Ambiguous Loss...That's a Thing?

Since starting our group practice in January we've wanted to find gaps in support in our community so we could better meet people's needs. The most glaring gap has been in grief and loss, especially ambiguous loss. When a loss is ambiguous it's not clearly defined and is often not recognized as a difficult loss by society. The examples of this kind of loss are almost endless (not having a relationship with an adult child, developing a chronic illness, ending an affair, having an abortion, being a caregiver to someone with dementia, experiencing multiple losses at once) yet when you look for support it's almost non-existent. Pauline Boss is one of the first people to identify ambiguous loss as an actual experience. She has many wonderful resources and articles that have been groundbreaking over the last several years (see her website for more information: The four of us have read so much of her work and use it almost daily in our practice so it was shocking to realize that the concept still wasn't widely acknowledged in our community or by other therapists. We saw ambiguous loss in so many of our clients as well as our own lives. It seemed odd that there weren't more resources for people and that so many clients were telling us they had never heard of the term ambiguous loss before. How could that be when it's something most of us experience at some point in our lives? Right now ambiguous loss is a silent ache that sits inside people; never being acknowledged as a legitimate loss experience. People suffer alone without knowing their pain has a name. It's not acceptable.

We want to name the pain, create a community of support, and then, together, find ways to move forward. Our journey down that path has started with the creation of ambiguous loss groups. We currently have one for parents with estranged adult children, one for caregivers, and one for people who develop serious mental illnesses. We hope that's just the start for us. Eventually we would like to have more groups that target very specific areas of loss. I've been making an effort to talk about it more in personal life as well. Sharing my own experience of loss and the struggle ambiguity adds to life has opened up fantastic conversations with friends and family. It's exciting but also surprisingly challenging; trying to bring to light a pain that's so often hidden and ignored. I often expect looks of complete confusion and pity yet have found the opposite response, one of relief and understanding, is more common and makes the momentary discomfort of broaching the subject worth it. If we all start acknowledging ambiguous loss as a genuine, painful loss experience then we'll be able to create a community where there are resources and support to help people live with the pain. Creating this awareness and support is possible but will take more than a few therapists in Minneapolis creating groups and talking about ambiguous loss in their personal lives. Will you join us in trying to create this change?
Thoughts By Alissa Kaasa

1 comment:

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