Cognitive behavioural therapy for psychopathology in relatives of missing persons: Study protocol for a pilot randomised controlled trial

Lonneke I.M. Lenferink*, Ineke Wessel, Jos de Keijser, Paul A. Boelen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)
28 Downloads (Pure)


Background: It is hypothesized that the grieving process of relatives of missing persons is complicated by having to deal with uncertainty about the fate of their loved one. We developed a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with mindfulness that focuses on dealing with this uncertainty. In this article, we elucidate the rationale of a pilot randomised controlled trial (RCT) for testing the feasibility and potential effectiveness of this CBT for reducing symptoms of psychopathology in relatives of missing persons.

Methods: A pilot RCT comparing participants of the CBT condition (n = 15) with waiting list controls (n = 15) will be executed. Individuals suffering from psychopathology related to the long-term disappearance of a loved one are eligible to participate. The treatment consists of eight individual sessions. Questionnaires tapping psychological constructs will be administered before, during, and after the treatment. The feasibility of the treatment will be evaluated using descriptive statistics (e.g., attrition rate). The primary analysis consists of a within-group analysis of changes in mean scores of persistent complex bereavement disorder from baseline to immediately post-treatment and follow-up (12 and 24 weeks post-treatment).

Discussion: A significant number of people experience the disappearance of a loved one. Surprisingly, an RCT to evaluate a treatment for psychopathology among relatives of missing persons has never been conducted. Knowledge about treatment effects is needed to improve treatment options for those in need of help. The strengths of this study are the development of a tailored treatment for relatives of missing persons and the use of a pilot design before exposing a large sample to a treatment that has yet to be evaluated. Future research could benefit from the results of this study.

Trial registration: NTR4732 (The Netherlands National Trial Register (NTR))
Original languageEnglish
Article number19
JournalPilot and Feasibility Studies
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Missing persons
  • Psychopathology
  • Grief
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy


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