Ambiguous loss is the complex grief that loved ones of missing persons experience.

Psychologists around the world consider it to be the most traumatic kind of loss and most unmanageable form of stress. It’s different to standard grief, as it is continual, which complicates and delays the grieving process, causing unresolved grief.

Many families have been inadvertently retraumatised by police, media and mental health professionals (as well as friends and colleagues) that aren’t equipped to support people living with ambiguous loss.

In 2020, we commissioned a pilot program connecting families seeking specialised counselling to Australian psychologists and counsellors trained by internationally-renowned ambiguous loss expert Dr Sarah Wayland. Since 2021, based on the success of this pilot, Sarah has trained service providers across Australia and abroad, including the AFP’s National Missing Persons Coordination Centre, the Red Cross, Wayahead, as well as charities in the UK, Ireland and Canada. Now, we’ve made Dr Wayland’s expertise accessible for everyone.


This world-first initiative provides vital professional and personal development to those who work with, or are close to, loved ones of missing people. Police, media, mental health professionals as well as people with lived experience will learn about the ways in which ambiguous loss shows up in people’s lives when someone is missing.

Creator and host, Dr Sarah Wayland draws on her 20 years’ experience working in missing persons and exploring the intersection of hopefulness and hopelessness that ambiguous loss creates to deliver this evidence-based masterclass, helping people better support loved ones of missing people as they navigate the uncertainty.

The first component, Ambiguous Loss 101, introduces the concept of ambiguous loss, how it presents itself for families and friends of missing people, and the ways in which you can manage your reactions to that ambiguity. To educate as many people as possible, we have made this video available for free, encouraging everyone to watch and learn. [Video below, slides here]



The second component of this masterclass, Advanced Skills Training, offers a deeper dive into the topic. Its intended audience is professionals regularly providing support to families, including specialised police, counsellors and support workers.


It explores theoretical constructs, therapeutic models, and practical examples using The Hope Narratives tool by way of simulated counselling sessions, to build confidence in engaging in the uncertainty and helping families navigate this path. The package comprises a 47-min video and accompanying slides and is now available (see the trailer below).

“If you’ve ever missed a loved one, you can imagine how devastating it is when your loved one disappears. It is a unique form of loss that requires understanding. This masterclass is a vital community resource addressing the often-misunderstood loss and grief caused by long term disappearance. Congratulations to Missed and Dr Sarah Wayland on the production of this essential resource.”
Ged Kearney MP
Hon. Ged Kearney MP
A/Minister for Health and Aged Care
In 2004, Sarah started working in a small service in Sydney, providing 1-on-1 counselling for families of missing people. She met people living with the unending, unclear loss of their loved ones. The more she met, the more she realised how little resourcing there was for counsellors, volunteers, police, the media and the community to shape how they might understand ambiguous loss. Her own guide was a small book written by Emeritus Professor Pauline Boss simply titled Ambiguous Loss.

A few years later, she furthered her knowledge through a Churchill Fellowship, working directly with ambiguous loss principle theorist Dr Pauline Boss, leading to a chance to work for the Australian Federal Police and then in a leadership position within the Department of Communities and Justice. As one person, working in one service, her capacity to reach families and train services was limited.

In 2013, she took a chance, quit her job, and started a PhD exploring the role of hope for families of missing people. Ten years on, Sarah’s now an Associate Professor leading research projects that seek to promote new ways of working in the trauma field.

Her hope is that this masterclass reaches those who need to better understand what happens when stories are shared with people who want to listen, all with the goal of better supporting families of missing people all around the world.

Our sincere thanks go to Dr Sarah Wayland for so generously sharing her expertise. She is an invaluable collaborator for our charity and a champion for this cause.