Is Bereavement Counseling the Victim of a Statistic With a Life of its Own?
Christian Jarrett over at the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest has posted an interesting piece citing a 2007 article by Larson and Hoyt entitled “What has Become of Grief Counselling? An Evaluation of the Empirical Foundations of the New Pessimism.” As Jarrett points out, “It has become the received wisdom in psychological circles that bereavement counselling is at best ineffective and at worst harmful, especially when offered to people experiencing ‘normal’ grief.” Bereavement counseling’s poor reputation, Larson and Hoyt note, is largely attributable to a 1999 dissertation by Barry Fortner which concludes that some 38 percent of grieving clients would have done better had they received no treatment at all. The problem, according to Larson and Hoyt, is that the 1999 dissertation has itself only been cited once, by the author’s colleague Robert Neimeyer. All other references to the 38 percent figure cite only Neimeyer. Having submitted the dissertation to a post hoc peer review, Larson and Hoyt find, “The experts conclusively agreed that [Fortner's methodology] is seriously flawed and that there is no valid basis for the claim that 38 per cent of grief counselling clients suffered deterioration.”
Historians of psychiatry and psychotherapy may well find the comments on Jarrett’s post equally interesting.