Meaning reconstruction 70 years later: Processing older adults' unfinished business in a drama therapy group

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Unfinished business (UB), when individuals appraise their relationship with others or themselves as incomplete or unresolved, entails difficult emotions such as regret, remorse, and guilt. UB is often associated with bereavement and is considered to be a predictor of complicated grief. Here we report two case studies describing the processing of the sudden death of a significant other in the context of a randomized controlled study of 12-week drama therapy groups for older adults. The intervention followed the format of Playback Theater, an improvised form of theater based on personal stories, and a life review paradigm. A mixed-methods approach explored the course of individual therapy within the group and potential mechanisms of change. The participants completed mental health questionnaires in a pre-post-follow-up design. The qualitative data included video recordings and postintervention interviews. One participant reported a clinically significant (CS) change in depressive symptoms and psychological well-being on the post and follow-up measurement indices. The second reported a CS change in self-esteem and relationship satisfaction at the end of the intervention, but not at follow-up. The findings suggest that the drama therapy contributed to the resolution of UB through restorative work in the three domains defined in meaning reconstruction theory: the "event story" of the loss, the "back story" of the relationship with the deceased, and the "personal story" of self. The results point to the need for additional research on meaning reconstruction in the context of drama therapy and encourage the broader application of performative techniques to treat complicated bereavement. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)573-586
Number of pages14
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Clinical Psychology


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