While earning my PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Arizona, I worked in Dr. Mary-Frances O’Connor’s Grief, Loss, and Social Stress (GLASS) Lab. I used fMRI and other methods to study how the death of a close loved one impacts the brain and how adaptation to the loss is reflected in brain network functioning, in order to better understand why some people develop complicated grief (or the ICD-11’s “prolonged grief disorder”) while others are able to cope more effectively.
I am particularly interested in the role of internal thought in bereavement adaptation, as complicated grief is marked by persistent, acute yearning for the deceased and/or preoccupying rumination about their death. Like other perseverative thought processes (such as worry), yearning and grief-related rumination are something that nearly all bereaved people experience to some degree. However, in complicated grief, these are often very intense, painful, and distressing symptoms that last for a long time, and likely play a significant role in preventing the person from adjusting to their new reality of life without their loved one. I am also interested in how processes like emotion regulation, social cognition, and reward learning may contribute to a person’s risk for developing complicated grief or other psychopathology such as PTSD.