A Leading Family Therapist

Dr. Pauline Boss is an educator and researcher who is widely recognized for her groundbreaking research on what is now known as the theory of ambiguous loss. Dr. Boss is known as a pioneer in the interdisciplinary study of family stress. For over thirty years, her work has focused on connecting family science and sociology with family therapy and psychology. Her multidisciplinary perspective has allowed her to work as a scientist-practitioner to develop theory that guides practice.

The importance of her work on ambiguous loss is validated by her election to three different professional organizations: the American Psychological Association, the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy, and the National Council on Family Relations.


Since 1973, Dr. Boss has studied ambiguous loss, taught university students, practiced as a clinician, and trained family therapists, psychologists, counselors, and humanitarians around the world to help individuals and families suffering from the trauma of ambiguous loss and its grief that has no end. Drawing on research and clinical experience, Dr. Boss worked across cultures to develop six useful and inclusive guidelines for building the resilience needed to both bear the ambiguity and move forward to live productive lives.

Over the course of her research, Dr. Boss has worked with families in New York who lost family members during 9/11 and families in Kosovo who have lost family members as the result of ethnic cleansing and terrorism. She also has worked with families who have psychologically lost a relative as the result of Alzheimer's disease and other chronic mental illnesses.

Dr. Boss draws on her research (and that of others) and her forty years of clinical experience to develop a powerful but flexible therapeutic approach for this heretofore unrecognized but ubiquitous type of loss. The fundamental tools of the theory and practice, described by Dr. Boss in the Ambiguous Loss Online Training and in her writings, are the six guidelines for therapists and practitioners as well as for concerned family members and friends who, despite ambiguous loss, need to find new hope and meaning in life. At this time, the ambiguous loss model, as updated, is being used to ease the pain and trauma for various kinds of ambiguous losses and across different cultures.

Education and Work history: Dr. Boss received her Ph.D. in Child Development and Family Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1975. From 1975 to 1981, Dr. Boss was an assistant and then associate professor with tenure at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 1981, she joined the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota and continued there as full professor until 2005 when she became Emeritus Professor. In 1995-96, Dr. Boss was appointed Visiting Professor at the Harvard Medical School, and in 2004-2005, she was awarded Moses Distinguished Professor at Hunter School of Social Work in New York City.


Dr. Boss's most famous book, Ambiguous Loss: Learning to Live with Unresolved Grief (Harvard University Press, 1999), introduced the phenomenon of ambiguous loss to a more general audience and has been translated into six foreign languages.*

Loss, Trauma, and Resilience: Therapeutic Work with Ambiguous Loss (W.W. Norton, 2006) was written for professionals and people who want to know how to ease the pain of ambiguous loss and how to help people to live with the “not knowing.” Based on what Dr. Boss learned from her work with families of the physically missing in Kosovo and in New York after 9/11 and from her ongoing clinical work with families of the psychologically missing from Alzheimer's disease and other chronic mental illnesses, Loss, Trauma and Resilience is used as the text for the Ambiguous Loss Online Training and is available in German and Japanese.

Her 2011 book, Loving Someone Who has Dementia (Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2011) was written explicitly for family caregivers and paraprofessionals and is also read internationally.**

* Chinese, Taiwan Chinese, German, Japanese, Marathi, and Spanish.
**French, German, Norwegian, and Polish.