Cognitive-behavioral correlates of psychological symptoms among relatives of missing persons

Paul A. Boelen, Lonneke Lenferink, Jos de Keijser

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


The disappearance of a close relative is associated with an elevated risk of emotional problems. Commonly observed problems include symptoms of prolonged grief (PG), posttraumatic stress (PTS), and depression. There is a need to enhance our understanding of psychological factors underlying these problems. From the perspective of cognitive behavioural theorizing, it has been postulated that maladaptive appraisals and avoidant coping behaviour are involved in the maintenance of emotional problems following bereavement.
No studies have yet tested whether cognitive-behavioural variables are also related to distress among relatives of missing persons, i.e., those confronted with ambiguous loss. The current study, conducted in the Netherlands, aimed to do so. To this end, we gathered data from 134 relatives of missing persons. They all completed self-report measures of maladaptive appraisals and avoidant coping, and measures of PG, PTS, and depression. Multilevel analysis was used to analyse the data. Findings indicated that the cognitive-behavioural variables explained significant amounts of variance in symptom levels of PG, PTS, and
depression. Considerable associations were found, even when controlling for sociodemographic characteristics (e.g., age, gender) and characteristics of the disappearance (e.g., time since disappearance, assumed cause). These findings indicate that pervasive negative thinking and avoidant ways of coping renders relatives of missing persons prone to emotional problems. This suggests that cognitive-behavioural interventions may be fruitful in the treatment of these problems.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jun 2017
Externally publishedYes
EventInternational Conference on Missing Children and Adults 2017 - Dundee, United Kingdom
Duration: 14 Jun 201716 Jun 2017


ConferenceInternational Conference on Missing Children and Adults 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


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