VIDEO: David Kessler on Coming to Terms with the End

A Special Storytelling Piece from Our 2018 Symposium

David Kessler

What does a complete life look like? Therapist David Kessler, who's spent his career working with grieving clients, discovered the answer to this question after working with a terminally ill young client, Leslie, who, when he first began working with her, had trouble coming to terms with her diagnosis.

In the following video, Kessler describes the gentle approach he used with Leslie, and explains how, even in the bleakest moments, he helped her uncover hidden strengths that allowed her to reach a place of acceptance and help others around her do the same.

David Kessler, MA, RN, is an expert on healing from grief and a contributing writer for, Dr. Oz’s, Anderson Cooper 360, and The Huffington Post. He’s the founder of and author of five books, including two with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, and You Can Heal Your Heart: Finding Peace after Breakup and Divorce or Death with Louise Hay.

As Kessler notes, working with terminally ill clients certainly isn't easy. And often, there's no one way to do treatment correctly. "We were never meant to tuck messy emotions into neat packages," he writes in his Networker article. "Rather than addressing grief as a problem to be fixed, we can help clients embrace it as a natural part of life’s experience."

How can therapists do their best work with someone who's dying or dealing with a loved one's terminal illness or death? Don't avoid the issue, Kessler adds. Make a plan. "Some therapists ask, 'So what’s going to happen when you can no longer come into the office? Will I visit you in the hospital? Will I go to your home?,' Kessler writes. "I think that’s such a powerful thing. I’ve seen therapists do wonderful life reviews. I love when therapists dive into that fearlessly."


Did you enjoy this video? You might also like Kessler's piece, Moving Through Grief, in which he explains how Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s grief-stage model can be used to guide practical interventions in therapy. Or, check out our interview with Kessler, in which he explains the role that personalized belief systems can have in coping, and shares what therapists can do to best prepare themselves for work with grieving clients.

Topic: Grief

Tags: 2018 | Networker Symposium | Symposium | cancer | Challenging Cases & Treatment Populations | challenging clients | chronic illness | death | Death & dying | death in the family | Deaths | Depression & Grief | grief | grief and loss | grief counselor | humor | humor in therapy | Illness | Illnesses | loss | parents | terminal illness

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1 Comment

Monday, June 25, 2018 9:24:29 AM | posted by M farrell
I think the best thing a therapist can do is to sit there and listen. You can’t guide anyone through that process as you haven’t done it yourself. I think it is the height of arrogance to see yourself as a guide to the dying