Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Clinical Psychology

Department or School/College

Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Gyda Swaney

Commitee Members

Cameo Borntrager, Annie Belcourt


Native American, American Indian, Spirituality, Traumatic Grief, Unexpected deaths, resiliency


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Clinical Psychology | Community Psychology | Multicultural Psychology


Background: Grief is an important and potentially misunderstood construct in Indian country. Past research has shown that the experience of unexpected deaths has been associated with intense and maladaptive grief responses. Active participation in religion or spirituality has been shown to buffer against the negative effects of bereavement. Given the well-documented premature mortality rates and generally lowered life expectancy in American Indian communities, this study examined the relationships between spirituality, unexpected deaths, and traumatic grief, as measured by the Inventory of Traumatic Grief – Revised (ITG-R). Method: A secondary multiple regression analysis was used to test the hypothesis that higher numbers of unexpected deaths, experienced by the participants, will predict more traumatic grief symptoms. In addition this analysis investigated the role of active participation in traditional spiritual practices as a moderator in the aforementioned relationship. Participants: The sample consisted of 87 (43 females, and 44 males) Native American adults ranging in age from 18 to 81 years (M = 43.74, SD = 14.74). Results: A statistically significant main effect was found for unexpected deaths (p = .045) and for the interaction term (unexpected deaths x spirituality) (p = .050) in predicting symptoms of traumatic grief. Bivariate analyses supported the directionality of the hypothesized moderating relationship (i.e., active participation in traditional spiritual practices acted as a buffer in the relationship between unexpected deaths and symptoms of traumatic grief). In addition, post-hoc independent samples t-tests found that participants who endorsed active participation in traditional spiritual practices reported, on average, significantly more total deaths, expected deaths, and unexpected deaths than the group who did not endorse active participation in traditional spiritual practices. Chi-square test for independence found significant group differences in endorsement of participation in a formal religion and the time since the death. More specifically, the group that endorsed active participation in traditional spiritual practices had significantly more individuals who also endorsed participation in a formal religion and who experienced more deaths that were less than six months prior to the grief retreat. Conclusions: Given the high observed mortality rate in Indian country, these preliminary results suggest that active participation in traditional spiritual practices may protect against maladaptive traumatic grief responses in relation to unexpected deaths.



© Copyright 2014 Ciara D. Hansen