Encyclopedia of Couple and Family Therapy

2019 Edition
| Editors: Jay L. Lebow, Anthony L. Chambers, Douglas C. Breunlin

Ambiguous Loss in Couple and Family Therapy

  • Janet YeatsEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-49425-8_468


Ambiguous loss theory was created by Pauline Boss, PhD in the 1970s, from initial research conducted with indigenous women and wives of Navy pilots missing in action Boss (2000). Dr. Boss continued her research with families of missing persons and with families living with a loved one with a dementia diagnosis. Researchers and clinicians continue Dr. Boss’s work in ambiguous loss by applying the theory to adoption, GLBTQ communities, hoarding disorder, refugee populations, bereavement, military families, divorce, among many other diagnoses and populations.

Theoretical Context for Concept

Dr. Boss began her research first in boundary ambiguity in families. As she continued her work, she noted that what she was finding went beyond boundary ambiguity to a lack of identifying and naming loss. Clinicians and researchers continuing Dr. Boss’s work in ambiguous loss have applied the theory to a variety of individual and family losses. Ambiguous loss theory fills a gap in marriage...

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  1. Boss, P. (2000). Ambiguous loss: Learning how to live with unresolved grief. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.Google Scholar
  2. Boss, P. (2006). Loss, Trauma and Resilience: Therapeutic work with ambiguous loss. New York: WW Norton.Google Scholar
  3. Boss, P. (2011). Loving someone who has dementia: How to find hope while coping with stress and grief. New York: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  4. Boss, P., & Yeats, J. (2014). Ambiguous loss: A complicated type of grief when loved ones disappear. Bereavement Care, 33(2), 63–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Sampson, J. M., Yeats, J. R., & Harris, S. M. (2012). An evaluation of an ambiguous loss based psychoeducational support group for family members of people who hoard: A pilot study. Contemporary Family Therapy, 34(4), 566–581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LMFT LLCMinneapolisUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Farrah Hughes
    • 1
  • Allen Sabey
    • 2
  1. 1.Employee Assistance ProgramMcLeod HealthFlorenceUSA
  2. 2.The Family Institute at Northwestern UniversityEvanstonUSA