Ambiguous Loss: The impact of missing persons on victims, advocates and judicial system personnel

Ambiguous Loss
Ambiguous Loss: The impact of missing persons on victims, advocates and judicial system personnel
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1 Resources
Recorded April 5, 2018
Unit 1 Slide Deck: Ambiguous Loss
Unit 2 Recording: Ambigious Loss
Unit 3 Webinar Notes: Ambiguous Loss

Experiencing loss is painful, but there is some solace in the conclusiveness of knowing something or someone is no longer a part of your life. Ambiguous loss is incomprehensible given the vagueness of not knowing if your loved one/s is/are safe and alive after they have gone missing.

On today’s webinar, our resource speaker Duane Bowers is back on the Justice Clearinghouse to discuss ambiguous loss. Duane is a therapist working with people who experience loss as well as survivors of trauma. He provides support to the families of abducted, missing, exploited and murdered children through the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC).

Duane will define ambiguous loss and distinguish its difference from loss due to death. He will expound on various concepts surrounding such cases. These include behaviors and symptoms that characterize people experiencing ambiguous loss and providing support to them.

This webinar’s discussion will encompass various areas dealing with loss, grief, and trauma including:

  • Defining grief as not a feeling a but process of adjusting to loss that could include various human feelings/emotions.
  • The debate within the mental health community on the subject of ambiguous loss due to the lack of a traumatic event or trigger.
  • Anticipatory grief as a type of grief when we’re aware of an impending loss that can be healthy by reducing the length and intensity of grief.
  • Defining ambiguous loss as a loss where a loved one is either physically missing or physically present but psychologically missing.
  • The Attachment Theory which is the precursor of grief theories.
  • The stages of response to separation and the four tasks of mourning according to the Attachment Theory.
  • The dual process model of grief and the reality of grief as not a linear process but one that jumps from one stage to another, and goes back and forth.
  • The concept of regrief where grief is revisited sporadically based on various triggers or reminders.
  • Defining what trauma is, its characteristics, and the criteria as prescribed by the DSM-V as to what qualifies as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
  • How trauma impacts behavior causing cognitive issues, repetitive thinking, anger, negativity, depression, detachment, dissociation as well as physical issues like trouble sleeping, illnesses and injuries.
  • Characteristics of Ambiguous Loss and intervention guidelines through listening without judgment, and empowerment.
  • The different emotions that the loved ones of missing persons may feel in the duration of the search as anger, guilt, fear and hope and ways to manage each of these.
  • Therapy, it’s goals, dealing with the outcome of an ambiguous loss case where the person is either found alive, or dead.
  • Understanding the side effects of the ambiguous loss to the family and elements to keep them resilient.
  • Impact of such cases on the system which encompass financials, resources and long-term system involvement.
  • Intervention tips and methods of de-stressing for both the family and the individuals doing casework.
  • Poll questions tested the audience’s insights on grief and ambiguous loss.
  • Webinar participants raised their inquiries on the Q&A portion concerning:
    • Activism and volunteerism of people who went through loss and grief
    • Ways to engage and support families who feel isolated due to ambiguous loss
    • The probability of suffering PTSD for professionals working on such cases as law enforcement, justice professionals and social workers
    • Resources to use or provide to families of missing persons
    • The role of funerals as a coping mechanism
    • Deflecting anger from families of missing persons through a dedicated social worker who can work as a point of contact
    • Techniques and resources for law enforcement and justice professionals to deal with the negativity and guilt that may become the result of such cases
  • There were audience comments on various resources related to missing persons cases.


Discussed Resources include:



Additional Resources
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