Department of Family Therapy Dissertations and Applied Clinical Projects

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Family Therapy


Martha Gonzalez-Marquez

Committee Member

Christopher Burnett

Committee Member

Dustin Berna


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2018) defines heartbreak as “crushing grief, anguish or distress.” Heartbreak can lead to biological, psychological and social responses and consequences. Heartbreak from the dissolution of a romantic relationship is a form of disenfranchised grief, which is defined as the griever’s belief that society does not recognize their source of grief as legitimate (Doka, 1989). The literature shows that talking about grief helps those who experience it (Fisher & Archer, 2008). Hence, the present study sought to provide a consensus of the best practices that marriage and family therapists have utilized to help broken-hearted clients. I employed a modification of the Delphi technique, a research method which seeks to reach consensus on a topic through group communication between experts in the subject area discussed (Hsu & Sandford, 2007) in order to gather data about best practices from marriage and family therapists on how they have helped their broken-hearted clients. This study consisted of a total of 20 experts, who are licensed marriage and family therapists. The findings suggest that the disenfranchisement of the grief resulting from the dissolution of a romantic relationship is closely associated with the symptom of sadness experienced by the broken-hearted. In addition, the way in which MFTs can help the disenfranchised griever is by providing an empathic presence in sessions, generating historical conversations through the use of a genogram, involving family members in the therapeutic process and having future oriented conversations. The results of this study have illustrated a plethora of techniques and best practices that have reportedly proven successful in helping the broken-hearted client.