Center for Prolonged Grief

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The History of Our Research

1995 - 1999

Dr. Shear began prolonged grief research collaborating with Drs. Ellen Frank and Charles Reynolds and their postdoctoral fellow, Holly Prigerson.  These colleagues had found that grief symptoms experienced by bereaved individuals seeking treatment were not responding to antidepressant medication nor to Interpersonal Psychotherapy.  Our objective was to develop evidence-based ways to understand, identify and treat prolonged grief in community settings.    

2000 - 2004

We completed an NIMH-funded treatment study (R01MH60783) comparing prolonged grief therapy (at that time called complicated grief therapy, CGT) to interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) for depression.  Results showed that PGT (CGT) was nearly twice as effective as IPT, an excellent, well-validated treatment for depression that has a grief focus. This study was the first controlled clinical trial targeting prolonged grief. 


Dr. Shear led a partnership with ministerial staff led by Rev. Sharon Dennard at Mt. Ararat Church, a Black Baptist church in Pittsburgh. Funded by a grant from the Staunton Farm Foundation, they developed an Inventory of Complicated Spiritual Grief and a 2-session pastoral intervention for bereaved parishioners.

2007 - 2009

Dr. Shear moved to the Columbia School of Social Work in 2006. In 2007 she received a second NIMH grant for a study comparing PGT (CGT) to IPT in older adults with prolonged grief. Results of this study were very similar to the first study. This work took place in a different setting with different therapists for both IPT and PGT and we again found that PGT was twice as effective (70%) as response to IPT (31%).

2010 – 2014

In 2011, Naomi Simon and senior biostatistician Melanie Wall analyzed a large clinical database in order to inform the development of diagnostic criteria.  Prigerson had done an initial helpful study work to inform the development of criteria for DSM-5.  This was a survey study conducted in a community-based sample that included only a small number of people judged to have prolonged grief and they were all widows.  Additionally, there was no independent well-validated “gold standard” needed to develop criteria for a new diagnosis. Our group of clinical researchers were among small group of clinical experts that have traditionally been used as an approximation of a gold standard in diagnostic criteria work in psychiatry. For all of these reasons, we believed it was important to consider both clinical and community samples in devising criteria.   We collaborated with a large group of prolonged grief researchers and clinicians to explain this point of view in a publication discussing a rationale and suggested criteria for inclusion of complicated grief in DSM 5. 

2015 – 2019

We received funding with the Uniformed Services University from the Department of Defense for a two-site study of Grief-Focused Online Intervention for Bereaved Military Families. This study used some of the components of PGT in a self-guided grief-focused app compared to a self-guided wellness app.  Interest in using the app was high with a high rate of recruitment and opening of the app but a small proportion spent more than 30 minutes on either app. Given that, there was a hint of superiority of the grief-focused app.

Additionally, we received funding from the New York Life Foundation to develop an app to promote resilience in bereaved families called GriefCare for Families.


We continued work to establish formal diagnostic criteria. A further analysis of themilitary bereaved family data was published by Dr. Cozza.

Successful field testing of the criteria proposed by the 2019 Workshop panel enabled the diagnosis to move forward for final approval which was obtained in the fall of 2021.  The criteria were released formally in DSM-5 TR in March of 2022.  Drs. Prigerson, Reynolds and myself wrote a paper introducing the new criteria.