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Loss, Trauma, and Resilience: Therapeutic Work with Ambiguous Loss
Pauline Boss




“[A]n important contribution to the psychosocial literature on loss and trauma, essential for therapists, researchers, and anyone seeking to reflect on contemporary life.”

—Celia J. Falicov, Ph. D., Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego, and past President, American Family Therapy Academy (AFTA)



“With her new book, Pauline Boss has made a significant contribution to the field of trauma studies by addressing the need to bridge individual models of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder with those based on relational and resilience approaches. At a time when the violence and losses of war, terrorism, and natural disasters increasingly threaten to unravel the social fabric of entire communities, clinicians and humanitarian workers alike will welcome Boss’s clear guidelines for strengthening connections in families in order to better cope with the stress of such ambiguous and difficult situations and find new sources of meaning and hope.”

—Jack Saul, Ph.D., Director of the International Trauma Studies Program, New York City



“We all confront loss in our lives, and with loss comes a rupture in meaning. In Loss, Trauma, and Resilience, Pauline Boss insightfully sees traumatic loss as ‘a relational disorder and not individual pathology.’ Most importantly, she draws on her substantial therapeutic experience, along with sophisticated theoretical resources, to provide practicable routes to restoring relations, meaning, and hope. This work will be especially useful to therapists confronting cases of trauma, great and small, and to scholars concerned with therapy as the site for restoring meaning.”

—Kenneth Gergen, Professor of Psychology, Swarthmore College, author of The Saturated Self and An Invitation to Social Construction



An ambiguous loss is one in which some critical element is missing such that customary rituals are made impossible and typical behaviors are impeded. Ambiguous losses may be due to physical or psychological absence. Whether it is living with a loved one in the grip of Alzheimer’s, coping with a partner who has gone missing, or handling another loss for which closure cannot be achieved, people need guidance to see their losses as ambiguous, resist social pressures to “get over” them, and develop resilience.



Pauline Boss, the principal theorist of ambiguous loss, guides professionals in the task of building resilience in families and individuals who face the trauma of loss without resolution. In her earlier groundbreaking work, Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief, Boss explored the complex phenomena of loss without resolution. The Washington Post praised her for “giving a name to a force many of us will confront.” Now, Boss describes a concrete therapeutic approach that is at once directive and open to the complex contexts in which people find meaning and discover hope in the face of ambiguous losses. Loss, Trauma and Resilience helps professionals work successfully with people who are distressed by loss without closure—and helps researchers understand family resiliency across disciplines in a new way.

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