Death and Dying Course offers an Existential Paradox

By Christina Baker, M.S., Clinical Psychology Student

“If you leave with more questions than answers, I have done my job,” says Dr. Philip Farber, Director of Clinical Training

One cannot think of the Florida Tech clinical psychology program without referencing Dr. Philip Farber. It is something about his demeanor, his tone and his concerned expres­sions that allow students to feel a Rogerian unconditional positive regard when in his pres­ence. It is this sense of safety and security, built on a foundation of mutual trust, which has made it possible for him to broach a topic like death and dying. Taught in the spring, “Death and Dying” is in its second year, receiving rave reviews from those who have had the benefit of participating in it last year.

Dr. Farber states that his interest in providing such a course really stems from his growing interest in existential and humanistic philoso­phies and psychotherapies. Specifically, he ref­erences the notion that death is typically seen by many as one of the few givens of existence; however, he notes, it is not commonly deemed a proper topic of conversation mainly because many people have yet to reach a good sense of peace with their own mortality. As a reflection of this, he adds that our own discipline has been less open to embracing this topic as an area of study, when compared to the other social sciences. Dr. Farber also candidly refer­ences his own experience with mortality as a catalyst for examining this topic more closely. In true Dr. Farber fashion, he very clearly explains, “pedagogical acceptance of this field must start from the top (i.e., the educator), and when mutual consideration and respect with students within the class is offered, anything can happen.” Thus, this course provides stu­dents the unique opportunity to turn toward the literature to examine this uncomfortable subject, in order to help students provide guidance to their clientele who will inevitably struggle with it, as well as to themselves.

When discussing this course, Dr. Farber makes it explicitly clear this class is not a therapy group for those taking it, but rather a chance to assess and hopefully increase the students’ own sense of comfort when discussing loss in a therapeutic atmosphere. He further describes how research in this field is somewhat lacking, both in literature and in practice. There has been really no other class that covers this prevalent topic exclusively, until now, and its offering reflects the Psy.D. program’s grow­ing commitment to more philosophical and existential issues. When considering taking this course, know that you will be challenged in many ways.

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