Ambiguous loss from chronic physical illness: Clinical interventions with individuals, couples, and families


  • Pauline Boss,

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Minnesota
    • Pauline Boss, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Family Social Science, 290 McNeal Hall, 1985 Buford Ave., St. Paul, MN 55108–6140; telephone: (612) 625-1900, e-mail:;
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Barbara A. Couden

    Corresponding author
    1. Indiana State University
    • Barbara Couden, M.S., Ph.D. Candidate, Assistant Professor, Department of Counseling, Indiana State University, Terre Haute, IN 47809; telephone: (812) 237-7762
    Search for more papers by this author


The theory of ambiguous loss is applied to chronic illness in individuals, couples, and families. Lack of clarity about prognosis, daily physical condition, and fluctuating capabilities create relationship confusion, preoccupation with the illness, or avoidance of the ill individual. Immobilization, depression, and relationship collapse may occur in response to features of chronic illness over which there is no control. A case study illustrates helpful therapeutic interventions for couples and families with chronically ill members. © 2002 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. J Clin Psychol/In Session 58: 1351–1360, 2002.