Grief-focused cognitive behavioral therapies for prolonged grief symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Katrine B. Komischke-Konnerup, Robert Zachariae, Paul A. Boelen, Madeline Marie Marello, Maja O'Connor

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Studies suggest that cognitive behavioral therapies (CBTs) may be efficacious in reducing symptoms of prolonged grief disorder (PGD), but no comprehensive overview and pooled estimate of CBTs’ effect on PGD in adulthood exist. We conducted a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Method: Studies were selected independently by two researchers based on a systematic literature search in Pubmed, APA PsycInfo, Web of Science, and Embase. Meta-analyses provided pooled effect sizes for the effects of CBTs on PGD symptoms and secondary outcomes. We explored potential moderators of effect, risk of bias of included studies, and evaluated the quality of the meta-analytical evidence through the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation system. Results: The meta-analysis included 22 studies of 2,602 bereaved adults (averaged study Mage = 49 years). CBTs had a statistically significant medium effect on PGD symptoms at postintervention (K = 22, g = 0.65, 95%CI [0.49, 0.81]), and a large effect at follow-up (K = 7, g = 0.90, 95%CI [0.37, 1.43]). Statistically significant small-tomedium effects were found at postintervention on posttraumatic stress symptoms (K = 10, g = 0.74, 95% CI [0.49, 0.98]), depression (K = 19, g = 0.53, 95%CI [0.36, 0.71]), and anxiety (K = 9, g = 0.35, 95%CI [0.22, 0.49]). The effects on PGD remained unchanged when adjusted for possible outliers. None of the moderator analyses reached statistical significance. Conclusion: This review suggests that CBTs are efficacious in reducing PGD symptoms in adulthood. Generalization of findings should be done with caution due to considerable inconsistency and indirectness of meta-analytic evidence.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)236-248
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date27 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2024


  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • grief
  • meta-analysis
  • prolonged grief disorder


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