What does a complete life look like? Therapist David Kessler, who’s spent his career working with grieving clients, discovered the answer to this question after working with a terminally ill young client, Leslie, who, when he first began working with her, had trouble coming to terms with her diagnosis.

In this video, Kessler describes the gentle approach he used with Leslie, and explains how, even in the bleakest moments, he helped her uncover hidden strengths that allowed her to reach a place of acceptance and help others around her do the same.

As Kessler notes, working with terminally ill clients certainly isn’t easy. And often, there’s no one way to do treatment correctly. “We were never meant to tuck messy emotions into neat packages,” he writes in his Networker article. “Rather than addressing grief as a problem to be fixed, we can help clients embrace it as a natural part of life’s experience.”

How can therapists do their best work with someone who’s dying or dealing with a loved one’s terminal illness or death? Don’t avoid the issue, Kessler adds. Make a plan. “Some therapists ask, ‘So what’s going to happen when you can no longer come into the office? Will I visit you in the hospital? Will I go to your home?,’ Kessler writes. “I think that’s such a powerful thing. I’ve seen therapists do wonderful life reviews. I love when therapists dive into that fearlessly.”

David Kessler

David Kessler, MA, RN, FACHE, is one of the world’s foremost experts on healing and loss. He’s the author of six bestselling books. His newest is Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief. He coauthored two bestsellers with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.