Culturally Sensitive Approaches to Finding Meaning in Traumatic Bereavement

Traumatic events such as disasters, accidents, war, or criminal violence are often accompanied by the loss of loved ones. Traumatic grief following the loss of loved ones due to violent circumstances may occur in people surviving cultural conflicts as well as profession related risks. Traumatic grief can be conceptualized as a combination of traumatic distress and separation distress following an unnatural, violent loss. In terms of conditions distinguished in DSM-5 (APA, 2013), traumatic grief reflects a combination of symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and persistent complex bereavement disorder (PCBD) (Boelen & Smid, 2017). PCBD is a condition similar to Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD) entering the forthcoming ICD-11. Mourning behaviors and ways of dealing with bereavement comprise important aspects of an individual’s cultural identity and profoundly affect the way the bereaved survivor finds meaning following traumatic loss. Finding meaning encompasses the bereaved individual’s evaluation of the loss of the loved person and its implications for the future—a cognitive, emotional, and spiritual process aimed at strengthening the individual’s ability to live with the loss within his or her cultural context.


The aim of the current chapter is to describe culturally sensitive approaches to finding meaning following traumatic bereavement. First, we will describe how the therapist explores the context of meaning. This includes exploring cultural ways of dealing with bereavement and grief, and listening to the story of the loss. In the second part of this chapter we will illustrate how different modes of symbolic interactions with the deceased person may aid in finding meaning in a culturally sensitive way. Selected interventions are presented along with case vignettes of refugees as well as a military veteran illustrating their use.

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Geert E. Smid and Paul A. Boelen | 2021
In: R.A. Neimeyer (Ed.) ; New Techniques of Grief Therapy: Bereavement and Beyond | New York: Routledge
Bereavement, Casuistry, Cultural Bereavement, Cultural Values, Humanities, Loss, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, Prolonged Grief Disorder, Psychotrauma, PTSD (DSM-5), PTSD (en), PTSD (ICD-11), Refugees, Traumatic events, Traumatic Grief, Treatment, Veterans, World Assumptions