Clients facing death

As a therapist, you may find yourself working with clients facing death and coming to terms with their own mortality. These resources can be helpful to understand these unique client needs and to support those nearing their end.

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The Wheel of Life: A Memoir of Living and Dying  by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Todd Gold

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, M.D., is the woman who has transformed the way the world thinks about death and dying. Beginning with the groundbreaking publication of the classic psychological study On Death and Dying and continuing through her many books and her years working with terminally ill children, AIDS patients, and the elderly, Kübler-Ross has brought comfort and understanding to millions coping with their own deaths or the deaths of loved ones. Now, at age seventy-one facing her own death, this world-renowned healer tells the story of her extraordinary life. Having taught the world how to die well, she now offers a lesson on how to live well. Her story is an adventure of the heart — powerful, controversial, inspirational — a fitting legacy of a powerful life.


When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air was written by a man full of promise, about to finish his training as a neurosurgeon, when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  This book was his journey to understand what it is that makes life meaningful in the end.






One of the most important psychological studies of the late twentieth century, On Death and Dying grew out of Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s famous interdisciplinary seminar on death, life, and transition. In this remarkable book, Dr. Kübler-Ross first explored the now-famous five stages of death: denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Through sample interviews and conversations, she gives readers a better understanding of how imminent death affects the patient, the professionals who serve that patient, and the patient’s family, bringing hope to all who are involved.



Facing death results in more fear and anxiety than any other human experience. Though much has been done to address the physical pain suffered by those with a terminal illness, Western medicine has been slow to understand and alleviate the psychological and spiritual distress that comes with the knowledge of death. In What Dying People Want, Dr. David Kuhl begins to bridge that gap by addressing end-of-life realities–practical and emotional–through his own experiences as a doctor and through the words and experiences of people who knew that they were dying.




therapy clients facing death Staring at the Sun: Overcoming the Terror of Death by Irvin D. Yalom

Written in Irv Yalom’s inimitable story-telling style, Staring at the Sun is a profoundly encouraging approach to the universal issue of mortality. In this magisterial opus, capping a lifetime of work and personal experience, Dr. Yalom helps us recognize that the fear of death is at the heart of much of our anxiety. Such recognition is often catalyzed by an “awakening experience”—a dream, or loss (the death of a loved one, divorce, loss of a job or home), illness, trauma, or aging.

Once we confront our own mortality, Dr. Yalom writes, we are inspired to rearrange our priorities, communicate more deeply with those we love, appreciate more keenly the beauty of life, and increase our willingness to take the risks necessary for personal fulfillment.


In this hilarious and moving book, popular English humorist Miles Kington faces cancer and death with his sparkling trademark wit, musing on everything from board games and yodeling to the prospect of being outlived by his dog.

When some people are told they have only a few months to live, they might travel around the world or write their memoirs or put their affairs in order. When it happened at the age of 66 to Miles Kington-one of England’s best-loved humorists-he did what he did best, offering sharp, wry, laugh-out-loud observations and ideas about his situation. Following his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, Kington proposes crazier and crazier ideas for his next book (what he calls “cashing in on cancer”) in a series of letters to his literary agent, Gill.



If you know of another book that belongs on this list let us know here or tell us about it in the comments. Make sure you’re also following The Therapist’s Bookshelf on Facebook and Instagram.


Many therapists enjoy recommending books to their clients to supplement the work they are doing together. We also use books to help ourselves grow as people and practitioners. Remember though that books are never a replacement for real human connection or for therapy when it’s needed. If you find yourself needing a therapist, a great place to start is Psychology Today. If you are having thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.


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