Understanding the Lived Experiences of Counseling Professionals in a Hospice Setting: A Phenomenological Study

Prado, Ashley M.
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Death and dying training and education do not exist for counselors working with hospice (Davis et al., 2012; Doughty-Horn, Crews, & Harrawood, 2013; Hunt & Rosenthal, 2000). There is minimal counseling literature related to counselor roles in hospice environments (Davis et al. 2012), their needs, and preparedness to counsel the death and dying population (Doughty-Horn, Crews, & Harrawood, 2013; Freeman & Ward, 1998; Gamino & Ritter, 2009; Harrawood, Doughty, & Wilde, 2011; Ober, Granello, & Wheaton, 2012). The purpose of the current study was to understand the lived experiences of counseling professionals working in a hospice setting, and to explore resources that guided their work with the death and dying population. Eight hospice counselors participated in the study through interviews. Individual syntheses were analyzed utilizing social constructivism and relational-cultural theory as guiding theoretical frameworks. After analyzing participant's individual syntheses, a group analysis was conducted. Six overarching themes were formed and included: 1) Impact of Death and Dying Education and Training, 2) Influence of Death Education on Level of Death Anxiety and Comfort 3) Facilitating Death Related Conversations, 4) Unique Characteristics of Hospice Environment, 5) Working as a Hospice Counselor, and 6) Implications for Future Counselors, Educators, and Supervisors. Twelve subthemes also emerged: Formal Training and Preparation, Informal Training and Preparation, Supervisors, Hospice Team, Colleagues, Utilization of Skills, Incorporation of Activities, Unfamiliarity with Boundaries, External Support of Client, Counselor Roles and Responsibilities, Meaning and Benefits, and Barriers, Stressors, and challenges. Suggestions for future research and implications for counselors, counselor educators, and counseling supervisors are provided.

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Counseling, Death and Dying, Education, End of Life, Hospice, Supervision