Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)



First Advisor

Eva Feindler, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Danielle Knafo, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Linnea Mavrides, Psy.D.


The purpose of this qualitative research study is to explore therapists’ experiences of the sudden passing of their patient. In particular, the researcher aims to explore the internal and external experiences of the therapist’s grief, as well as implications for training and professional life. Seventeen psychotherapists, ranging in professional training, aged 30 to 80, who lived in several states across the country, participated in individual interviews with the principal investigator via online video conferencing. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed, according to the qualitative research method of Auerbach and Silverstein (2003), to extrapolate themes and theoretical constructs from their anecdotal accounts to create a theoretical narrative. Results of the subsequent analysis indicate that the experience of therapists who have had a patient suddenly die can be best understood through the six major constructs (1) the details and circumstances of the patient’s death, (2) the therapist’s affective reactions, (3) the therapist’s views on death and life, (4) the meaning-making process for the therapist, (5) the therapist’s coping behaviors and (6) the patient death’s impact on the therapist’s professional life. The discussion contextualizes the data and proposes a look at these constructs through the lens of terror management theory (TMT), emotional processing theory and meaning making. Additionally, contributions to the field and the profession of clinical psychology are proposed.