Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2009

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Psychological and Quantitative Foundations

First Advisor

Westefeld, John

First Committee Member

Ali, Saba

Second Committee Member

Altmaier, Elizabeth

Third Committee Member

Craft-Rosenberg, Martha

Fourth Committee Member

Liddell, Debora L

Fifth Committee Member

Liu, William M


Trends in lengthening life spans and population growth indicate that psychologists will be increasingly called upon to provide mental health services to persons who are dying. Some persons close to death have specialized needs that psychologists and other mental health professionals must learn to address appropriately. Psychologists need information from the wide variety of professionals who currently provide therapeutic interventions in order to be adequately prepared to do the same. The purpose of this study was to document the lived experience of mental health professionals who provide mental health services to persons who are dying in order to more fully establish the characteristics and nuances of what it is like to work with this population.

Moustakas' (1994) phenomenological methodology was used to analyze the interview data. Following analysis, six facets of the experience were identified. The phenomenon of providing mental health services to persons in the process of dying included experiencing:

1) Very positive and rewarding emotional aspects and very painful and distressing aspects;

2) Effective service provision involving making an invested and authentic connection, listening carefully and being "present", and carefully individualizing treatment; all while managing emotionality;

3) The otherworldly, either in religious or ethereal ways;

4) Learning from clients how to live and how to die;

5) End-of-life phenomena which were convincing, but anecdotal; and

6) Awareness of death and of personal mortality.

This study's findings generally supported by existing research were: 1) working with this population involves both positive and challenging emotional states and 2) individualized treatment based on client characteristics is paramount. Some of this study's findings were new contributions, such as indentifying the importance of further individualizing service provision based on the setting and the presence of others. Other unique findings included the many positive aspects of working with people who are dying, such as profound learning opportunities and experiencing religious/ethereal and other end-of-life phenomena.

Suggestions for psychologists' training to gain self-care skills were provided, both to avoid the negative emotional impact of providing services to this population and to desensitize themselves to death and personal mortality.


counseling, death, dying, psychology, therapy, training


ix, 120 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 112-120).


Copyright 2009 Jennifer Marie Hill