The occupational therapist and terminal illness: Learning to cope with death

Am J Occup Ther. 1976 May-Jun;30(5):294-9.


Working with terminally ill clients is legtimately within the scope of occupational therapy. Yet two students attempting to define and learn a role in this area discovered that few therapists reported they were treating dying people. Findings from a review of the literature and in talking with therapists and dying people suggested that an occupational therapy role in this area was not clearly nor attractively defined. In addition, no suggestions were found to show how one learns such a role. This paper reports the conclusions arrived at by these students and their instructor. Using the occupational performance frame of reference, they propose a unique occupational therapy role for assisting a dying client to relinquish his occupational roles. In addition, functions of listening to, accepting, and understanding the feelings of the dying person, his family, and the staff caring for him are described. The paper concludes with examples of specific experiences for learning this role and functions based upon the premise that people must come to terms with their own feelings about death and dying before they can work effectively with a terminally ill client.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude to Death*
  • Humans
  • Occupational Therapy*
  • Professional-Patient Relations
  • Role
  • Terminal Care*