Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Psychotherapists-Mortality, Diseases-Psychological aspects, Psychotherapists-Attitudes, Psychotherapist and patient, Death-Psychological aspects, Terminally ill-Psychology, Self-disclosure, Death, Mortality, Terminal illness, Professional will, Two-person psychology, Clinical social worker death, Clinician illness, Mixed methods


This quasi-mixed methods, exploratory study examined the mortality practices of clinical social workers. The study sought to understand how clinical social workers interact with their mortality within their clinical and professional practice—whether they have discussions about their mortality with clients, what attitudes they have about disclosing potentially terminal illness to clients, and how clinical social workers prepare for the potential that they may die or become incapacitated during the process of practicing clinical work. While the literature provides robust support for at least some practices, few studies have examined actual practice implementation. The present study explored the attitudes and mortality practices of 83 clinical social from across the country in the form of an online survey, and eight clinical social workers through a brief phone interview. The sample was largely comprised of white women (as is the profession), with a skew toward older, psychodynamic private practitioners. The vast majority of clinicians do not prepare professional wills, but a fair number have some sort of "informal arrangements" in place. Clinicians seemed to converge upon the attitude that disclosure of terminal illness and discussion of clinician mortality is advisable with some clients, some of the time. Respondents presented nuanced explorations of both the benefits and pitfalls of such discussions. The study suggests a general, apparently beneficial shift toward acknowledging the real personhood of clinical social workers, but further conversation and training around mortality practice implementation would benefit clinicians and their clients.




v, 91 pages. Thesis (M.S.W.)-Smith College School for Social Work, 2014. Includes bibliographical references (pages 74-83)