Newsweek’s online edition carried an interesting story recently on new research focusing on complicated grief. According to Newsweek:
In a paper in the journal Neuroimage, O’Connor and her colleagues describe using an fMRI machine to probe the neurological basis for complicated grief among a small sample of women who had lost a close relative to breast cancer. Ordinary grief is apparent on a brain scan: show a bereaved daughter a picture of her mother, and areas of the brain that process emotional pain are activated. The women with complicated grief showed that pattern, but something else as well: activity in the nucleus accumbens, a brain region associated with pleasure, rewards and addiction. “When the women came out of the scanner, the complicated-grief group rated themselves as feeling more negative than the others,” O’Connor said. “But they also said things like, ‘Oh, it was so nice to see my mom again.’ These are the ones who pore over picture albums, talk about the person all the time, almost as if she was still here.” The women in that situation were unconsciously prolonging their grief, she concluded, because memories of the person they missed gave them pleasure—as well as pain.
Interesting, but it causes one to wonder… As practicing clinicians what are we to do to treat these patients? Do we encourage them not to look at pictures, etc, or do we encourage it. Perhaps further studies will give us some direction, but the basic research provided here gives a good explaination of what is going on with these grief stricken individuals.