The Role Of Psychology In Irreversible Processes: 5 Attitudes Towards Death

We explain what is the role of the psychologist in irreversible processes.

Undeniably, in many of the fields where the psychology professional participates, phenomena related to loss processes occur . When the loss acquires an irreversible character, as in cases of death, the psychologist aims to know how to respond to the consequent emotional demands of the environment. There are many areas where this type of phenomenon occurs.

For example, a psychologist specialized in gerontological care will be exposed to the death of elderly people on a continuous basis and his duty is to know how to respond to the demands of family members as well as to have resources to face his own death. Even more evident in hospital oncology units, care in grieving processes or  psychological intervention in emergencies and disasters, among others. However, what are the most frequent attitudes towards death and dying?

Five attitudes to death

According to Concepció Poch, in his book La Mor t (Editorial UOC, 2008), there are five “classic” ways of approaching the phenomenon of death.

1. Denial

In the first place, denial or indifference, which consists of avoiding as much as possible the presence of death, even reflection on it, living as if it did not exist. This commonly extended attitude of treating death as a taboo subject is a common practice in Western culture.

2. Defiant attitude

Second, there are people who approach death in an omnipotent and defiant way, which colloquially would mean “risking their lives.” We live as if we were never going to die and we consciously expose ourselves to the phenomenon. The common thought in this type of person is usually “it won’t happen to me.”

3. Anguish

Third,  fear and anguish. People who connect from this attitude acquire a pessimistic and hopeless cognitive style in the face of life and tend to repeat questions related to the uncertain nature of the grim reaper: “What is the meaning of life and death?” “How and when will I die?”

As Concepció Poch (2008) expresses, some psychologists specify the fear of death in very human experiences: regret not finishing projects, not accepting the end of their own temporal existence, fear of illness or dying with suffering and physical pain. It is also true that death is scary because it does not answer any of the questions it raises, what will there be after? Is there life beyond death?

4. Liberation

A fourth approach to death would be from a point of view of liberation or relief. Freeing the body and mind from a painful, dependent or routine existence is the horizon that some people yearn to achieve. In this sense, controversies of opinion often arise about the debates about euthanasia or  suicide, for example.

5. Acceptance

Perhaps the healthiest approach or attitude is that of realism and acceptance. The resigned and realistic attitude has a pragmatic character that accepts death as a radical and authentic reality. In that sense, being aware of the finite character of the human being, not from a tragic point of view, educates us to value life and, above all, the negative vicissitudes and twists of fate that death brings. Death is educating us as the main agent of change in our lives. According to Raffaele Mantegazza (2006), in order to be able to talk seriously about death, one must learn to die.

How many people do we know who have changed their lifestyle when they have had a near-death experience? Why do we usually wait for death to realize the important things in life? As a college colleague said, “we prepare for everything except the most important.” If, for example, the death of loved ones frequently breaks into the life path … 

Why don’t we learn to understand those processes? Why don’t we put the will to accept death? Why do we keep denying and “dodging” it? The psychology professional has an interesting plot where to continue developing her skills to help people … What are we waiting for?

Bibliographic references:

  • Mantegazza, R., (2006). Death without a mask. Barcelona. Herder Editorial
  • Poch, C., (2008). The mort. Barcelona. UOC Editorial

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