Missing Persons Counselling: Ambiguous Loss

Missing Persons Counselling: Ambiguous Loss

The subject of missing persons can be a very difficult subject to conceptualize for many people and, for the majority of people, it’s simply not a subject they ever think about or rarely hear about. For the people that go through the horrendous experience of a loved one going missing that have yet to be located, the mark of grief and loss that it leaves on them and the questions that it brings can haunt them for the rest of their lives.

Missing persons is a worldwide issue and something that can affect everyone, regardless of their age, professional background, ethnicity or circumstance. In Australia alone, the Australian Federal Police state that each yearapproximately 35,000 people are reported missing in Australia and, that while 95 percent are found within a short period of time, there remains approximately 1,600 long term missing persons who have been missing for more than six months. With this statistic alone, we can estimate that many 1000’s of people have been adversely affected by the loss of a loved one that has yet to return or yet to be located.

How People Go Missing?

There are different ways that a person can be identified as missing. Recently, the tragic event of the missing Malaysian flight in March 2014 is an example of where many people have disappeared and yet to be found. With the absence of the plane and the people onboard, and the facts surrounding the case remain ambiguous and unexplainable, the ability for the loved ones to work through the grief of the loss remains frozen. As Sarah Bajc, a survivor whose partner Philip Wood disappeared on the flight states, “You grieve for them not being there, “but you can’t really grieve for them because you don’t know that they’re dead. 

Missing in Action 

In periods of war and conflict, many people disappear and are never found or recovered. Known as Missing In Action, this leaves the family members and friends with the difficult thoughts and emotions of what may have happened and the absence of any remains or facts surrounding what happened, the mystery what may have happen can linger on for a lifetime. This not only effects the immediate family and friends of the person who is termed Missing In Action, but also can have intergenerational effects, as the stories told by one generation to the next about what may have or not happened to the missing person can permeate through the family.

Unexplainable Disappearances

In some cases, people have gone missing and are never found under circumstances that simply don’t make sense to the family that are left behind. In some examples of missing person’s cases, some people appear to have simply wandered off or disappeared without explanation. Some of these cases can be either attributable to the mental health concerns of the missing person or that they might have disappeared due to other means, either by foul play or accident. In other reported cases, some children and adults have disappeared while bush walking or hiking in National Parks and are never found while in the presence of family members by reasons that are as yet unexplainable.

Ambiguous Loss

With these situations, the term ‘ambiguous loss’ is one that begins to describe a state that is familiar to people who have experienced a loved one who has disappeared or remains missing. As Pauline Boss, a therapist who coined the term, states “You can’t use grief therapy with ambiguous loss because there’s nothing wrong with the person. There’s something wrong with the situation itself. This is about adapting to having no facts.”

As there remains the absence of the missing person and there is no verification or death and uncertainly surrounding what happened and whether they will return, the loss experienced differs greatly to ordinary loss. The place from where a person grieves when they lose a loved one isn’t there, as the object of ones grief is absent and the circumstances surrounding it are unexplained. As Sarah Bajc again once says of her missing partner “There’s a mystery to be solved here, and until we understand what happened, I don’t know that I can accept that he’s gone.”

How Counselling & Psychotherapy Can Help

Counselling and psychotherapy can be a great help and service to those who have experienced the loss of a loved one who has gone missing. If you or someone you know are suffering from the loss of a missing person, I offer counseling and psychotherapy to those people to help them to find meaning in what has happened in their lives.

Missing Persons Counselling & Psychotherapy Melbourne
Paul Reid – Counselling & Psychotherapy
Phone: 0420496599
Email: [email protected]

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