Engaging with death, dying and bereavement

Death affects us all. Whether we are grieving the death of a loved one or are living with the knowledge of our own or someone else’s dying, death forms part of all our lives. Living with death and its implications for ourselves and others is a central theme in many therapeutic approaches, in the talking therapies as well as in the arts and play therapies. This research theme concerns the entire lifespan, it cuts across different disciplines, pure and applied. At Roehampton, this subject area is being approached from a variety of angles, shedding new light on what could be seen as one of the darkest givens of human existence. Paradoxically, engaging with death, dying and bereavement can be a catalyst for personal healing and growth and can support change within families and communities.
Crossing different research centres and disciplines at Roehampton, our group includes researchers from counselling psychology, the art and play therapies, counselling and psychotherapy and anthropology. Our research is recognised both nationally and internationally and often involves collaborations with other institutions both home and overseas.

Key areas:

  • Living with terminal illnesses
  • The impact of bereavement on different populations
  • Continuing bonds in bereavement
  • Sense of presence experiences in bereavement
  • Humanistic and meaning-oriented grief therapies
  • Art therapy for adults receiving supportive and palliative care
  • Death anxiety and death awareness
  • Dark tourism and suicide tourism
  • Children’s experiences of loss and bereavement

Key publications:

  • Hayes, J., & Steffen, E. M. (2018). Working with welcome and unwelcome presence in grief. In D. Klass & E. Steffen (Eds.), Continuing bonds in bereavement: New directions for research and practice (pp. 163-175). New York: Routledge.
  • Klass, D., & Steffen, E. M. (Eds.). (2018). Continuing bonds in bereavement: New directions for research and practice. New York/London: Routledge.
  • Neimeyer, R. A., Milman, E., & Steffen, E.M. (2018). The meaning in loss group: Principles, processes and procedures. In R. A. Neimeyer (Ed.), Techniques of grief therapy: Before and after the death. New York: Routledge.
  • Steffen, E. M. & Kasket, E. (2018). Continuing bonds between the living and the dead in contemporary Western societies: Implications for our understandings of death and the experience of death anxiety. In R.E. Menzies, R.G. Menzies, & L. Iverach (Eds.), Curing the dread of death: Theory, research and practice. Australian Academic Press.
  • Steffen, E. & Coyle, A. (2017). ‘I thought they should know … that daddy is not completely gone’: A case study of sense-of-presence experiences in bereavement and family meaning-making. Omega: Journal of Death and Dying, 74, 363-385.
  • Steffen, E., & Coyle, A. (2011). Sense of presence experiences and meaning-making in bereavement: A qualitative analysis. Death Studies, 35, 579-609.
  • Wood, M.J.M., Molassiotis, A. & Payne, S. (2011) What research evidence is there for the use of art therapy in the management of symptoms in adults with cancer? A systematic review. Psycho-Oncology. 20(2) pp.135-145.
  • Wood, M.J.M. (2015) 4.11 the contribution of art therapy to palliative medicine. In: Cherny, N., Fallon, M., Kaasa, S., Portenoy, R.K. & Currow, D.C. (eds.) Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine (Fifth Edition). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. pp.210.
  • Wood, M.J.M., Low, J., Molassiotis, A. & Tookman, A. (2013) Art therapy's contribution to the psychological care of adults with cancer: A survey of therapists and service users in the UK. International Journal of Art Therapy. 18(2) pp.42-53


Current research projects:

  1. The Meaning in Loss Group pilot study: Investigating the feasibility of a meaning-oriented group grief therapy protocol (collaboration with Prof Robert Neimeyer, University of Memphis, USA)
  2. Clients’ perceptions of helpful/unhelpful factors and processes of change following bereavement group therapy: A thematic analysis
  3. A qualitative meta-synthesis of sense of presence experiences in bereavement (collaboration with Prof Adrian Coyle, Kingston University, UK)
  4. Continuing bonds: The grief experience of adults bereaved by parental suicide during childhood
  5. Developing humanistic psychotherapy for unwelcome experiences of presence in grief

Future research projects:

  • A survey of continuing bonds in bereavement and the quality of the pre-death relationship
  • The experience of the Death Café and cultural formulations of a death discourse

Contact: Dr Edith Steffen - edith.steffen@roehampton.ac.uk