Ambiguous Loss and the Myth of Closure

healing self discovery

Pauline Boss

September 22-24, 2017
Friday-Sunday, 2 nights
CE Credits available

$325 Tuition

Plus 2 nights all-inclusive accommodations priced separately below.


Program Description

Ambiguous loss is loss that remains unclear and unverified—it has no closure. For example, a loved one might physically move because of a divorce, adoption, a family quarrel, or war or political upheaval, as is the case with migrants and refugees. Or someone goes missing psychologically because of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias, serious mental illness, addiction, or a brain injury.

When loved ones cannot be physically reunited or psychologically healed, or when a loss is of such magnitude that it lacks meaning, the lens of ambiguous loss offers a way to cope and carry on despite unanswered questions. Often misdiagnosed as depression, the chronic sadness is actually a normal reaction to an abnormal type of loss. The culprit is the ambiguity.

With ambiguous loss, traditional grief and trauma therapies are inappropriate. Because ambiguous loss cannot be fixed or cured, the goal is not closure but the resilience to live with ambiguity. Not easy in a culture that values certainty.

Through illustrative stories and small group discussion with Pauline Boss, PhD, who coined the term “ambiguous loss,” we learn how to live well despite the ambiguity through her six researched-based guidelines:

Finding meaning

Adjusting mastery

Reconstructing identity

Normalizing ambivalence

Revising attachment to the lost person

Discovering new hope

This workshop is appropriate for those experiencing any kind of ambiguous loss, as well as for mental health professionals who want to incorporate these insights into their work with clients or patients.

Faculty Bio

Pauline Boss

Pauline Boss is pioneer and principle theorist in the study of ambiguous loss, a term she coined in the late 1970s to describe losses that occur without closure or meaning. Among her many articles and books are the acclaimed Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief (Harvard University Press, 1999); 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/John Wiley, 2011). Currently, she is writing The Myth of Closure about losses that make no sense and continue to cause suffering.

Now Professor Emeritus, University of Minnesota, Dr. Boss was also faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1975-1981), Harvard Medical School (1995-96), and Moses Professor at Hunter School of Social Work in New York City, (2004-2005). As a scientist-practitioner, she studied both types of ambiguous loss—with families of the physically missing (during the Vietnam War, after 9/11 in New York City, in Japan after the 2011 tsunami, etc.) and with families of the psychologically missing (Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, traumatic brain injury, autism, mental illness, etc.) Based on this 40 years of work, Dr. Boss developed six guidelines for coping with losses complicated by ambiguity. They include: finding meaning, adjusting mastery, reconstructing identity, normalizing ambivalence, revising attachment, and discovering new hope. These guidelines for staying strong and living well, despite the ambiguity of unanswered questions, provide the core of Dr. Boss’ discussions at 1440 Multiversity on September 22-24, 2017.

Dr. Boss’ interview with Krista Tippet, was one of On Being’s most listened-to 2016 episodes, and she has also appeared on Good Morning America, ABC News, CNN News, NPR, BBC Radio, CBC, and a Starz TV panel. Dr. Boss was awarded Fellow in the American Psychological Association, the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and the National Council on Family Relations. She is a family therapist, consultant, and supervisor in private practice in Minneapolis.


Why Attend

  • Find out how to recognize the two types of ambiguous loss, their effects, and how and why treatment and interventions differ from grief therapies.

  • Learn about recent grief research that emphasizes “living with grief” rather than “getting over it.”

  • Learn about and discuss the myth of closure, why we yearn for it, why it is unattainable, and why the alternative goal is to search for new meaning.

Things to Know

  • Program Schedule

    Download a sample schedule.

  • Prerequisites

    None required.

  • Experience Level

    None required.

  • CEs Available

    Continuing education is available for marriage and family therapists, psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers.

  • Recommended Reading

    Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live With Unresolved Grief, by Pauline Boss

  • Special Interest to

    Mental health professionals, clergy, and educators who will expand their skills in being able to offer compassionate and effective tools to support clients’ suffering from unresolved and complicated grief

  • Special Details

    Pauline Boss — The Myth of Closure



Spacious rooms with additional seating and special touches.
From $330 per person per night based on double occupancy.*

Traditional Double
Tastefully designed rooms with a range of bed sizes.
From $190 per person per night based on double occupancy.*

Standard Single
Affordable solo comfort with a shared hall bathroom.**
From $175.

Standard Double
Affordable comfort with a hall bathroom.
From $160 per person per night based on double occupancy.*

Modern, Asian-style sleeping space for 8 with twin beds.
Available for booking in Fall 2017.
From $140 per person per night.*

Commuter Pass
Register for a program without spending the night. Includes all meals + use of campus amenities. Limited availability.
From $95 per program night.***

Accommodation rates include more than just the bed you sleep in. Per-person per-night rates include:

  • nourishing farm-to-table meals
  • daily meditation and yoga classes
  • non-ticketed evening events
  • use of all facilities, including the fitness center, steam rooms, and whirlpool.

Guests also enjoy access woodland trails, and enjoy cafés, shops, and evening programs.

*Plus tax. Includes meals, activities, and services. There is an additional charge to book a room privately.
**Plus tax. Includes meals, activities, and services. Limited availability.
***Plus tax. A program night starts upon check-in and goes through lunchtime of the following day (roughly 24 hrs).

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