Death literacy is the knowledge and practical skills that allow people to gain access to, understand and make active choices around end-of-life and death care options. Death literacy, the difficult but necessary choices around terminal illness and how to live well until death, are rarely addressed in psychotherapy. Many therapists lack knowledge of how the experiences of dying and death are powerfully shaped by race, class, gender, and culture. Additionally, therapists can be unaware or misinformed about end-of life resources. Countertransference and/or lack of specialized skills contributes to therapists’ avoidance of these topics. When death is not part of the therapeutic conversation, opportunities are lost for empowering clients around this inevitable and natural human experience. Through lecture, video, journaling and small group conversations, this workshop will address the marginalization and medicalization of death in the 21st century, highlight the importance of fostering therapeutic conversations on mortality, summarize the parameters of palliative and hospice care, provide an outline of concrete topics of importance to address with clients, highlight ethical dilemmas for the therapist and explore therapist countertransference and personal life stories that often impact the therapeutic relations and interventions.
Statement of Need: Everyone dies. The US Census Bureau predicts that for the first time in history, by 2035, people over 65 will outnumber the number of children. Additionally, although medical advances have enabled people to live longer with terminal illnesses, there is controversy over whether such interventions compromise quality of life. The medicalization of death and the growth of the funeral industry have catalyzed social movements that question common practices. These movements include home and green burials, hospice and palliative care, end-of-life doulas, Medical Aid in Dying, the development of advanced directives. Research suggests that social dimensions (including but not limited to race, class, ableism, education, religion, given and chosen family) powerfully impact the nature of treatment and available choices about end-of-life, including the very experiences of dying and death. Most therapists lack specialized training in addressing our clients’ terminal illnesses and inevitable death, in what topics can lead to fruitful reflection and planning, and in how to navigate the complicated and often conflictual choices clients and their families will face through grave illness and death