Books for Therapists on Death & Dying


The only absolute certainty in life is that we’re going to die someday; still, we’re extremely reluctant in facing this truth, so much so that it can bring us great suffering and anxiety. The following books contain emotional and though-provoking narratives that make you reflect on the brevity of life, and how we can help ourselves and others cope with this insurmountable fact.

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“Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” by Atul Gawande

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In this striking and emotional narrative, surgeon Atul Gawande reignites the debate on the contradictory principle of medicine: at the same time that it heals and protects, it oftentimes dehumanizes and excludes. Bringing riveting stories and research, Being Mortal is a book on how medicine can take a turn for a more spiritual and free system, and the role of medicine to provide not only a healthy life but a respecting death.


“On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy, and Their Own Families” by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

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On Death and Dying is the iconic book by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in which she defines the now-famous five stages of grief, consisting of denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Dr. Kubler-Ross describes in detail how these five stages work, providing real and touching stories on how the imminence and proximity of death affects not only the patient, but all people involved.


“She Came to Live Out Loud: An Inspiring Family Journey Through Illness, Loss, and Grief” by Myra MacPherson

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Journalist Myra MacPhearson spent three years with Anna, a courageous and intelligent woman battling breast cancer. In this book, the author retells this experience in a compelling narrative that touches on subjects like medicine, grief, death, love, health and many others. MacPhearson gives us a look inside the life and death of Anna and how it all unfolded after her having passed away. This book offers life lessons for everyone, redefining the meaning of loving and dying.


“Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death” by Irvin D. Yalom

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In Staring at the Sun, Dr. Yalom invites us to confront our own mortality of human beings, and make meaning out of this experience. In a deep and relatable way, Yalom identifies that the fear of death is, for the most part, the origin of great anxiety, and it’s triggered by situations in which we lose something valuable to us. With Yalom’s writing, we’re inspired to place more meaning into our relationships and to value the amazing experience that it is living.

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“The Denial of Death” by Ernest Becker

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The Denial of Death is 1974’s Pullitzer prize winner and an attempt to respond to the long-asked question: What is the meaning of existence? As he attempts to respond to this question, Ernest Becker will probe topics like Freudian psychology, humanity’s fear to face its own mortality, the relation between religion and human sciences and more. Becker’s storytelling is designed to make you rethink all your beliefs and preconceptions of humanity.


“The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying” by Sogyal Rinpoche

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The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, is an astute, clever and, above all, meaningful exposition of the messages of Tibetan Buddhism. By exploring the philosophy of karma, rebirth, compassion and evolution, Rinpoche seeks to illuminate us on important spiritual practices and the practical actions we can take to connect with each other and to live a more spiritual life.


“When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi and Abraham Verghese

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When Breath Becomes Air is a deeply emotional and strong memoir that follows the journey of author Paul Kalanithy, a neurosurgeon diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in his late 30s. As a father, doctor and newly identified patient, Kalanithy reflects upon the meaning of life, the spectacle of birth and his own mindset as he’s confronted with the frightful prospect of his own mortality. Kalanithi passed away while working on this book, but left behind a legacy of possibly life-altering reflections for many.


“Sterben und Tod im Familienleben: Beratung und Therapie von Angehörigen von Sterbenskranken” von Miriam Haagen und Birgit Möller

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The book shows ways how to support families in the situations of death and loss of a family member, how to strengthen their resources and how to prevent traumatizations. The introduction describes the background knowledge of grief reactions and the triggers for adults and for children. The focus of the book is on families in which one member is terminally ill. In detailed layout the authors show how conversations with the different family members can be designed and illustrate this using numerous case studies. Treatment options and advice in the phases of grief, farewell situations and mourning are discussed.

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