Application of Ambiguous Loss Theory: Advanced Training for Family Therapists and Educators

November 19, 2022 11:00am - 5:00pm
$149 for NCFR members / $189 for nonmembers (lunch included)
Hilton Minneapolis | 2022 NCFR Annual Conference
Pauline Boss, Ph.D., pioneer of ambiguous loss theory

Pauline Boss, Ph.D.; Chalandra Bryant, Ph.D., CFLE; Armeda Wojciak, Ph.D.; Alyssa Maples, Ph.D.; Jessica Simpson, M.S.; Kadija Mussa, M.S.

The goal of this workshop is to equip a new generation of qualified ambiguous loss experts, using a "train the trainers" approach. It is intended for family therapists, clinicians, and other educators already familiar with the basics of ambiguous loss theory and ready for case study applications.

Full Abstract

Ambiguous loss is an unclear loss that confuses, distresses, and often traumatizes individuals and families (Boss, 1999 to 2022). Yet, many people manage to find enough resilience to live with not-knowing.

Over the past few years, requests for ambiguous loss therapy and education have skyrocketed. Such requests have increased locally, nationally, and globally for both types of ambiguous loss.

Physical ambiguous losses have increased due to COVID-19 illness and COVID-related restrictions—no touches or hugs for loved ones ill or dying; no rituals such as funerals to say goodbye. There has also been an upsurge of forced migrations in the wake of war, terrorism, and natural disasters (e.g., hurricanes, fires, floods, droughts). In addition, military deployments, incarcerations, divorces, and family estrangements continue.

Psychological ambiguous losses have increased because of our aging population dealing with Alzheimer’s disease and over 80 other conditions and illnesses contributing to dementia or terminal illnesses affecting the mind. There is the psychological loss experienced by parents and grandparents of transgender-transitioning youth who are present, but no longer as they used to be. There is also the psychological loss of feeling safe—due to increased mass shootings and hate crimes. As a result of the increase in physical and psychological ambiguous losses, more clinicians and educators are now needed as people are seeking this service.

Understanding the value in giving this unique loss a name is a vital step in helping individuals/families. Using a case study approach, this workshop also addresses new ways of thinking about resilience and unresolved grief. Six tested intervention guidelines will be taught. While work is systemic and contextual, it can be addressed through individual, couple, or family therapy as well as through group psychoeducation. Psychoeducation may be especially appropriate in cases of large-scale ambiguous losses to simultaneously help multiple members of entire communities impacted by the same loss (e.g., loss due to a flood, a pandemic, a war). Community-based psychoeducational interventions are especially needed when clinical therapists are in short supply, or when psychoeducational group work is preferred by the help-seekers.

Given the current demand, we need a new generation of qualified ambiguous loss experts. The goal of this workshop is to train the trainers. We aim to train educators and clinicians who can (a) effectively apply the theory of ambiguous loss, and (b) train others to continue this work. If you are an educator or clinician already familiar with the basics of ambiguous loss theory, and ready for case study applications, we welcome you to this workshop.

Learning Objectives

  1. Clinical Application: To apply the theory of ambiguous loss to clinical cases at the individual, couple, and family levels
  2. Psychoeducation Application: To apply the theory of ambiguous loss to community-level cases using psychoeducation with a focus on losses that have affected multiple individuals within the same community using psychoeducation
  3. Cultural Sensitivity: To identify the role culture and context plays in coping with loss and grief
  4. Self-Knowledge. To reflect upon and use knowledge of self as a means of helping others.

Previous knowledge expected:

  • Familiarity and knowledge of ambiguous loss theory. Knowledge can be obtained through individual readings and course studies. It can also be achieved by completing the Ambiguous Loss Certificate through the University of Minnesota Family Social Science department.
  • Be a practicing therapist OR a community-based educator (e.g., Family Life Educator).

Continuing Education

Participants of this workshop can earn 4.5 hours of NBCC and CFLE continuing credit.


How to Register

$149 NCFR Members & CFLEs (includes lunch)
$189 Nonmembers & non-CFLEs (includes lunch)

You can add any pre- or post conference workshop when you register for the conference, or register for this postconference by itself. Register here.

If you have already registered for the conference, you can add it to your registration separately.

To add items to a completed registration, log in, click the Events menu item, then click Edit next to the conference event for which you'd like to modify your registration.

A discount can be provided to individuals interested in obtaining the Ambiguous Loss Certificate. Please email Stacey Horn at [email protected] for more information.


About the Presenters

Pauline Boss, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, a fellow in both the American Psychological Association (APA) and American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), and a fellow and past president of the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR). She practiced family therapy for over 40 years. With her groundbreaking work in research and practice, Dr. Boss coined the term ambiguous loss in the 1970s and since then, developed and tested the theory of ambiguous loss, a guide for working with families of the missing, physically or psychologically. She summarized this research and clinical work in her widely acclaimed book Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief (Harvard University Press, 2000). In addition to over 100 peer reviewed academic articles and chapters, her other books include Loss, Trauma, and Resilience: Therapeutic Work with Ambiguous Loss (W. W. Norton, 2006) and Loving Someone Who Has Dementia: How to Find Hope While Coping with Stress and Grief (Jossey-Bass, 2011). Her most recent book is The Myth of Closure: Ambiguous Loss in a Time of Pandemic and Change (W. W. Norton, 2022). Her work is known around the world wherever ambiguous losses occur, and thus her books are now available in 18 different languages. For more information about Dr. Boss, her writings, and the ambiguous loss online training program, see

Chalandra Bryant, Ph.D., CFLE, is a professor of Family Social Science and faculty fellow in ambiguous loss at the University of Minnesota. Her research focuses on the developmental roots and course of close relationships; the ability to sustain close intimate ties; and the way social, familial, economic, and psychosocial factors are linked to marital outcomes. A National Institutes of Health-funded project, A Study of African American Marriage and Health, examined factors contributing to the marital and health outcomes of newly married African American couples as well as the interrelationship between marriage and health. She has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Family Theory and Review and the Journal of Marriage and Family. She is a co-author of the book, Family Stress Management: A Contextual Approach, Third Edition published by Sage.

Armeda Wojciak, Ph.D., is an associate professor of Family Social Science and program director of couple and family therapy (CFT) at the University of Minnesota. She has developed a robust research program in improving outcomes for at-risk youth and families with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) through interventions that are designed and evaluated across family, foster care, school, and youth camp formats. Dr. Wojciak was a founding member of the multidisciplinary team who create the inaugural “Building a Resilient Iowa” workshops for educators, health care, public health, and community agencies to build trauma informed care systems across Iowa’s care systems. As program director, Dr. Wojciak is responsible for the future direction of the accredited CFT program, teaching and advising students and providing clinical supervision as a couple/marriage and family therapist. Nationally, she has presented at the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy annual meetings, the Society for Research on Adolescence, National Council on Family Relations, and Society for Prevention Research.  She has served as the associate editor of the Journal of Couple and Relationship Therapy and on the editorial boards of the aforementioned journal and the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy.

Alyssa Maples, Ph.D., is a professor of couples and family therapy at Purdue Northwest and is a practicing clinician at Cascade Family Therapy. She has completed the Ambiguous Loss certificate and weaves it into her practice at Cascade working with people who have experienced addiction and trauma. Her research focuses on college students, flourishing, mental health challenges, engagement and community is informed by positive psychology and systems theory. Given her background as an academic adviser and instructor before obtaining her doctorate, she come to research with experience and understanding of how certain parts of a predominantly white institution function and tend to be oppressive for populations that are historically under-represented on campuses (e.g., students of color, first-generation college students, and students with disabilities). 

Jessica Simpson, M.S., is a third-year doctoral student in couple and family therapy and an ambiguous loss researcher. Her additional research interests include American Indian families impacted by trauma (e.g., separation, foster care, adoption); factors that contribute to the alleviation of trauma symptoms following family separation; and stress theories and risk and protective factors that help explain why some American Indian families report fewer trauma symptoms.

Kadija Mussa, M.S., is a second year Ph.D. student in Family Social Science with a concentration in Couples and Family Therapy at the University of Minnesota. Kadija Mussa is also concentrating on quantitative data analysis methods including large data and is also Population Studies trainee at the Minnesota Population Center. In her work with Dr. Chalandra Bryant, Kadija focuses on her research agenda of looking at the impact of stress on African, and African American couples, individuals and families.