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Sudden Death of the Therapist: The Effects on the Patient

Abstract

While the termination phase of psychoanalytic psychotherapy has been discussed in the literature, the effects on the patient of a forced termination following the therapist's death have seldom been investigated. In this paper, two groups of patients (N = 35) were compared: those who experienced a planned termination and those who experienced a sudden termination as a result of their therapist's death. Data were gathered by means of detailed questionnaire and formal psychological assessment (i.e., the Grief Experience Inventory). Responses were also solicited from therapists who treated patients subsequent to the original therapist's death. Results indicate that patients forced to terminate due to the therapist's unexpected demise experienced significantly more intense grief reactions with regard to feelings of anger, despair, depersonalization, and somatization. The nature of the transference relationship with the original therapist at the time of the latter's death appeared to influence the subsequent therapeutic relationship as well. The authors present recommendations and practical guidelines concerning therapists' responsibility to their analytic patients to make reasonable accommodations in the event of their unexpected death.

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Garcia-Lawson, K.A., Lane, R.C. & Koetting, M.G. Sudden Death of the Therapist: The Effects on the Patient. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy 30, 85–103 (2000). https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1003605316813

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1003605316813

Keywords

  • Social Psychology
  • Forced Termination
  • Therapeutic Relationship
  • Psychological Assessment
  • Practical Guideline