ASWB Exam: Prolonged Grief Disorder

By Heidi Tobe on September 18, 2023

Prolonged grief disorder

Beginning January 2024, the ASWB exams will begin testing the DSM-5-TR (which was released in March of 2022). As we mentioned in last month’s blog reviewing the overall changes, the updates are relatively minor and shouldn’t be a cause for concern for those of you preparing for your social work exams. TDC’s DSM materials will be updated later this fall to ensure those of you preparing for exams in 2024 will be ready for the TR content. 

This month we are diving a little deeper into a new diagnosis in the DSM-5-TR: Prolonged grief disorder.

Why the new diagnosis for grief? 

The diagnosis of prolonged grief disorder is for those who are experiencing a maladaptive grief reaction causing clinically significant distress or impairment in functioning. This is not a diagnosis for individuals having a typical grief reaction; for a diagnosis of prolonged grief disorder, the duration and severity of grief must exceed social, cultural, and religious norms for the individual. If a therapist is treating a client for typical grief reactions, the Z Code for uncomplicated bereavement can be used instead.

Prolonged grief disorder was added so that people experiencing prolonged grief are not wrongly diagnosed with major depressive disorder, and to ensure they receive the appropriate care and treatment for their prolonged grief.

Grief Disorder

Prolonged grief disorder criteria

For adults, the loss must have occurred at least 12 months ago (and for adolescents, at least 6 months ago). 

Symptoms of prolonged grief disorder (APA, 2022) include the following:

1. Since death, one or both of the following occurs most days to a clinically significant degree AND symptoms occurred nearly every day for at least the last month:

  • Intense yearning/longing for the deceased person.
  • Preoccupation with thoughts or memories of the deceased (for children/adolescents, the focus may be on the circumstances of the death).

2. Since death, at least 3 of the following must be present:

  • Identity disruption (e.g., feeling as though part of oneself has died) since the death.
  • Marked sense of disbelief about the death.
  • Avoidance of reminders that the person is dead (in children and adolescents, may be characterized by efforts to avoid reminders).
  • Intense emotional pain (e.g., anger, bitterness, sorrow) related to the death.
  • Difficulty reintegrating into one’s relationships and activities after the death (e.g., problems engaging with friends, pursuing interests, or planning for the future).
  • Emotional numbness (absence or marked reduction of emotional experience) as a result of the death.
  • Feeling that life is meaningless as a result of the death.
  • Intense loneliness as a result of the death.

Prolonged grief disorder on the ASWB exams

On the exam, you’ll want to look for two key things for this diagnosis. 1. That time criteria is met. 2. That the grief is causing clinically significant distress and exceeds the social, cultural, and religious norms for the individual (as evidenced by the diagnostic criteria above).

Preparing for your LMSW or LCSW exams?

TDC has helped thousands of social workers across the country pass their exams with confidence (through several versions of the DSM) over the past decade. Trust you’re in good hands! And remember, all of our programs come with access to a coach you can email anytime you have questions. We’re here to help you every step of the way.



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