Tales from the Valley of Death

Reflections from psychotherapy on the fear of death

Ross G. Menzies,

Tales from the Valley of Death: Reflections from psychotherapy on the fear of death
The dread of death is a problem nearly as old as time itself. Our awareness of our own mortality has been famously referred to by William James as ‘the worm at the core’ of human existence, lingering in the shadows of our daily lives. It is something we must all grapple with. Yet, increasing scientific evidence suggests that ‘death anxiety’ may lie at the heart of a multitude of mental health conditions, driving numerous clinically-relevant behaviours.What can we learn about confronting mortality from the tales of individuals who have been gripped by mental illness and the dread of death?Tales from the Valley of Death explores the complex lives of individuals who have been crippled by death-related fears and related existential issues as revealed by candid interviews with their psychotherapist, internationally renowned clinical psychologist Professor Ross Menzies. Vivid first-hand accounts reveal their private histories, core thoughts, beliefs and attitudes that drove their mental health dilemmas. For some, the struggle has gone on for years as they tried different therapies and therapists.A platform for the wealth of mental and behavioural processes brought to life through these 10 fascinating tales is provided by Rachel Menzies, a leading researcher in death anxiety and daughter of Ross. Her engaging introduction on the history and psychological underpinnings of death anxiety bookends neatly with a comprehensive concluding examination of what these stories reveal about its causes and effects.As we listen in on the interviews, it is hard not to be struck by how fascinating these individuals are, how compelling their histories have been, and how hard they have fought to overcome their difficulties, bravely wading their way through the murky territory of the same existential dilemmas we all must face. Their fears range from sudden death by fire to assassins in the shadows, from anaphylactic shock to a multitude of diseases, from being attacked by dinosaurs lurking in kitchen cupboards to being pushed off cliffs and in front of trains. For many, the ultimate fear is the wrath of God while for others, a lack of meaning and a pervasive sense of pointlessness drove their mental difficulties. Tales from the Valley of Death shows us the many ways that the dread of death and fear of impermanence can strike at the heart of the human experience and the power of effective therapy to improve the lives of others.

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