Academic journal article Journal of Human Services

Human Services Students' Perspectives on Death Education: Listening to Their Lived Experiences

Academic journal article Journal of Human Services

Human Services Students' Perspectives on Death Education: Listening to Their Lived Experiences

Article excerpt


Death education for healthcare professionals is rare in spite of the fact that many of them will work with dying and bereaved populations. Researchers have identified the benefits of death education for various helping professionals, but no studies were found describing human services students' lived experience of participating in death education. Using an inductive constant comparative method, the results from interviews of 14 human services students revealed themes that described the participants' perceived meanings regarding death education. Study participants reported feeling that death education was beneficial in preparing them personally and professionally for working with dying and bereaved clients.


Humans cannot avoid confronting death anxiety, the fear generated by death awareness (Chengti & Chengti, 2012). This anxiety may be more acute for health care workers who come into contact with others who are in the process of dying. Increasingly, helping and health care professionals are faced with the challenge of working with people struggling through the death, dying and bereavement (DD&B) process and the complex interplay of clinical content, personal fears, anxieties, and the meaning of death. This work can provoke confusing, frightening, and painful feelings within a helping professional (Braun, Gordon, & Uziely, 2010) and influence how helping professionals, such as social workers, nurses, doctors, and human services workers approach their work with DD&B clients. Death education may lower death anxiety among these professionals (Barrere, Durkin, & LaCoursiere, 2008), which in turn may improve patient care (Melo & Oliver, 2011). Unfortunately, death education to prepare those working with the DD&B population is rare (Breen, Fernandez, O'Connor, & Pember, 2013) and few qualitative studies that examine students' experiences of participating in death education could be found in the literature (Adesina, DeBellis, & Zannettino, 2014; Ek, et al., 2014; Harrawood, Doughty, & Wilde, 2011; Mott, Gorawara-Bhat, Marschke, & Levine, 2014). None were found describing the experiences of human services students participating in death education. Given such, further research is warranted to examine the impact of death education on human services students in an effort to address the lack of preparation among these students to work with the DD&B population. The purpose of this study is to explore the perspectives and lived experiences of human services students participating in death education and their perceived comfort level working with DD&B clients after participation in DD&B education.

Literature Review

Death Education

Death education, the teaching of the practical and emotional aspects of death, dying, and bereavement, is scarce among healthcare professionals (Breen et al., 2013). Healthcare professionals consistently report two common threads that run through their learning needs regarding DD&B: concrete knowledge about the dying process and learning how to manage their own personal reactions and attitudes regarding death (Harrawood at al., 2011). Despite the recognition of the importance of a specialized skill set for working with the DD&B population, Fonseca and Testoni (2011) reported. "...there is still a vast amount of work to be done in the field" (p. 164). For example, according to Cacciatore, Thieleman, Killian, & Tavasolli (2015) social work training programs lack exposure to the issues involved in caring for dying clients, and social workers see themselves as completely unprepared to work with DD&B issues. Nurses also feel unprepared to work with dying patients (Peterson, Johnson, Scherr, & Halvorsen, 2013). Medical residents share similar feelings of lack of preparedness towards end-of-life care for patients (Billings, Randall, & Engelberg, 2009). Csikai and Durkin (2009) further noted that along with the knowledge needed to practice effectively students need to undergo a reflective process of critically evaluating their own personal attitudes about DD&B to be thoroughly prepared to work with the dying client population. …

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