Death, Loss, and Meaning

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Certificate Program Directors: Ed Mendelowitz, Ph.D. and Robert Schmitt, Ph.D.

The Death, Loss, and Meaning Certificate program is offered through cooperation of the Specializations in Existential, Humanistic, and Transpersonal Psychology; Consciousness, Spirituality, and Integrative Health; and Creativity Studies. The Certificate program takes a uniquely humanistic and interdisciplinary approach to the core themes that define it. It is intended to be much more than a training program designed to prepare individuals immersed through their professional work and careers in matters of death and loss, though this will surely figure prominently among the populations it will concretely serve. Death and loss are approached in their literal as well as symbolic elements, life transitions included. This Certificate program will attend to the interrelated nuances of individual, cultural, aesthetic, psycho-spiritual, and religious aspects of death, loss, and meaning while attending to themes relating to lived experience and the passage of time: poignancy, personal narrative, and meaning-making. Program flexibility allows for customization of individual courses of study so as to make possible multifarious aspects and focuses dependent upon personal interests, expectations, and intended career applications.

The Death, Loss, and Meaning Certificate has been uniquely designed with Saybrook's legacy and calling as a pillar of humanistic values and decorum pervasively in mind. This is a sensibility embracing the dignity and grandeur of life while simultaneously attending to its delimiting and tragic dimensions as well. "There is no sun without shadow," writes Albert Camus, "and it is essential to know the night." It is this conjoined feeling for perspective, vision, aesthetics, and character that will pervasively inform this Certificate program and serve as the wellspring to which it will regularly return. The largesse that inheres in the very best of humanistic psychology will both undergird and guide this multidimensional program, one enriched by an ongoing dialogue with the broader humanities – literature, art, film, music, philosophy, and religion. “The love of form,” observes poet Louise Gluck, “is a love of endings.”

Possible career outcomes resulting from this Certificate program will include both enhancement of the professional and paraprofessional scope of practice and the facilitation of finely attuned senses of mindfulness and communion in working with issues of death, loss, life transitions, and meaning. Psychologists, counselors, therapists, and laypersons will have an opportunity to enhance sensitivity, imagination, and fortitude in working with individuals who are dying or preparing for death or, equally important, dealing with significant loss or transition (those death-equivalents to which we are all episodically or regularly heir) or who may be employed in the provision of oversight and counsel to caregivers so involved.

Individuals in the healthcare field including nurses, nurse aids, physicians, and administrators routinely working with death and loss or who are in frequent contact with caregivers in these domains should find themselves also well-served by this Certificate program. Many spiritual and religious leaders, too, regularly engaged with individuals facing psychological or spiritual malaise associated with death and loss, are likely to find here much of personal and professional worth. The certificate is also relevant for individuals within these fields specializing in working with major life transitions, such as divorce and life adjustment relating to personal disabilities or the disabilities of family members. For each of these groups, this Death, Loss, and Meaning Certificate program seeks to sharpen awareness and deepen understanding, simultaneously broadening perspective and opening new vistas. “Transiency,” as Rollo May once reflected, “is what makes care possible.”

The Certificate program consists of completing four elective courses, a 3-credit practicum, and a 1-credit integrative seminar. For the elective courses, students must choose four of the following courses:

EHTP 3520: Multicultural Perspectives on Death and Loss
EHTP 3615: Existential Psychology and Literature
EHTP: Existential Perspectives on Death, Loss, and Transience (in development)
CSIH 3205: Spiritual Direction
CSIH: Physical and Spiritual Dimensions of Death and Loss (in development)
CS 3530: Death and Loss in Literature and Film
CS 4535: The Use of Poetry with Death, Loss, and Life Transitions

Students will complete a 3-credit practicum (EHTP 8151, CSIH 8151, or CS 8151). The practicum will be individually arranged with a faculty member. The practicum experience must entail applying relevant learning from the courses in working with caregivers, individuals who are dying/preparing for death, or individuals who have experienced a loss.

Integrative Paper or Project
The final activity in the Certificate program is the writing of a culminating paper (EHTP 8950, CSIH 8950, or CS 8950) that integrates and advances the learning gained from the four courses and the practicum.

Certificate Objectives
Upon completion of this Certificate program, students will:
1. Demonstrate an awareness of the psychological, physical, and spiritual/religious dimensions of death, loss, and life transitions.
2. Utilize knowledge about the physical, psychological, and spiritual/religious dimensions of death, loss, and life transitions in an applied setting.
3. Be able to articulate and utilize foundational existential and humanistic psychology applications relevant to issues of death, loss, and life transitions.
4. Demonstrate sensitivity to a diversity of perspectives on death and loss, including spiritual, religious, and cultural differences.
5. Work with issues of death, loss, life transitions, and meaning in an interdisciplinary context.
6. Demonstrate understanding of the way creative individuals examined the topics of death, loss, and life transitions in media including books, theater, movies, and television.