Death and dying are topics that are not often discussed within our culture. It is often avoided, left-alone, and remain as lingering thoughts in our mind. According to Broderick (1988), decades ago, death was a subject less likely than sex to be found in most college curriculum but the commitment to the subject varies from discipline to discipline (Huff, Weisenfluh, Murphy, & Black, p. 220). Today thousands of colleges and universities are involved in death education. Thanks to the wonderful work of our social workers, the importance and discussion of this topic is expanding. Social workers are the only healthcare professionals that focus solely on the psychosocial aspects of death and dying, working directly with the family and client in adjusting to the life-threatening illness and providing them with the adequate resources (Huff, Weisenfluh, Murphy, & Black, p. 227).
“Never tell someone you know exactly what they are going through” (Hopkins, lecture). This may devalue their experience. We may share similar experiences but not everyone has the same exact feelings & reactions to these experiences. It’s important to value and take into consideration the uniqueness of each individual and their troubles.
“Invite adults into the conversation versus asking direct questions” (Hopkins, lecture). There is a difference between directly asking a client, “how do you feel about your grandmother’s death?” and “I really miss my grandmother, it was a hard process letting go. I remember going on hikes with my grandmother and exploring the parks around our town, do you recall any special or joyful moments you shared with your grandmother”? The question is less intrusive and more inviting, allowing for clients to start reflecting on their own thoughts/feelings in regards to the death of their loved ones.
“You should support the person, check up on them, and be there for them down the road” (Hopkins, lecture). Consistency is key. Telling someone, “call me if you need me” is not enough. People need external support throughout their entire grieving process. As previously mentioned, grieving is a very sad and internal process that may last for multiple years. Often the 2nd second year is the most difficult, as people may start to wake up to the reality that their loved ones are no longer with them (Hopkins, lecture).
When addressing self-disclosure, ask yourself “What is the purpose? Is it going to help your work? While it is important to connect with clients by fostering a sense of genuine care and empathy, you also have to consider just how much is too much. Establishing an appropriate boundary in sharing personal experiences with clients is essential to providing the best possible care to clients. As previously mentioned, you do not want to take away from the client’s individual experience. If what you are revealing is line with helping the client reach their goals, then it may be okay to self-disclose.
Make sure you are properly taking care of yourself; practice positive self-care. Because death can be a very emotionally triggering and taxing experience, it’s important to formulate a proper self-care plan to deal with the emotional ramifications of a client’s death.
For example, a member of a focus group intended to better understand the educational needs of social work students working with dying clients stated, “I found that the only way that I could deal with the stress of work was to meditate in the mornings, eat right, and get plenty of rest. Otherwise, I couldn’t deal with the death that I saw in my clients” (Huff, Weisenfluh, Murphy, & Black, p. 226).
Your self-care plan has to be suited to meet your own personal needs and may thus consist of different activities that uplift you and help to alleviate the cluster of emotions you are likely to undergo in this field.
Hopkins, S. (2016). Lecture on Hospice Care.
Huff, M., Weisenfluh, S., & Murphy, M. (2008). End-of-Life Care and Social Work Education. Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 48(1-2), 219-231. doi:10.1300/J083v48n01_15