What is it about?

In this paper, two psychotherapy trainees who lost a parental figure to cancer during graduate training discuss this shared experience. We explore the literature on bereavement and how loss has been tied to psychotherapist growth while interweaving the ways in which the literature coincides with our experience. Within this exploration, we center our experience around the wounded healer literature. We also highlight areas of growth and challenge and narrow in on what others may take away from our lived experience. Specifically, we discuss cultural values in the context of bereavement, bridging the personal and professional self with colleagues and supervisors, feelings of relief and guilt, psychotherapist escapism, appropriate self-disclosure, and unexpected takeaways. To conclude, we tie together the ways in which our experience of loss impacted our growth as psychotherapists. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2019 APA, all rights reserved)

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Why is it important?

Bereavement during graduate training brought up challenges with rigid gender roles, guilt, and confusion over a developing professional identity. As psychotherapy trainees, we were confronted with how and when to talk appropriately about bereavement in supervision and with clients: ad- vanced professional skills which take time and training to master. Yet, through the supportive context of graduate school and our own process of healing, we have gained greater self-acceptance and familiarity with the road to resilience.


This was a deeply personal piece for me to write about my own experience with my father's suffering and death from terminal liver cancer in 2016. It was a challenging and meaningfully healing experience to put words to the experience in a manner that will hopefully assist other trainees and supervisors navigating similar situations.

James E McDonald
Marquette University

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This page is a summary of: Challenges and growth through bereavement during graduate training., Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, June 2019, American Psychological Association (APA),
DOI: 10.1037/int0000142.
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