By Helen Kewell
CCS Books (2019): 168 pages
Reviewed by: Caity Roleston
Living Well and Dying Well book cover

“We counsellors cut our teeth on the business of endings” (Kewell, 2019, page 2)

Despite the centrality of endings within therapeutic practice, Kewell reflects that before she began working therapeutically with older adults she had previously omitted death from her catalogue of endings. She explains that a chance referral with a bereaved man in his mid-nineties revealed her own fears and presuppositions, turned them on their head, and consequently, marked a pivotal turning point in her counselling journey.

She acknowledges that older people have been “objectified in society and marginalised in psychotherapy” (page 2) which she argues contributes to their under-representation in the literature, and critically, to the devaluation and under-resourcing of support services. This book then, seeks to: challenge these problematic beliefs and assumptions; contribute to the wider dialogue on counselling with older people; and to encourage others to take up the baton.

Each chapter brings to life a client that Kewell has worked with. Among them we are introduced to Bobby whose deep-rooted beliefs about himself, and his worth, had denied him opportunities to grieve and accept comfort after the death of his wife. Later we encounter Kate, for whom the demands of re-imagining strongly held beliefs, and potentially internalised ageism, prove too much to confront. Finally, we meet Cliff who asks simply that someone bear witness to his grief.

Kewell is fiercely phenomenological and deftly weaves an experiential tapestry. Interlacing rich, emotionally grounded, and embodied client case studies with her own centred reflections, cut through with pertinent excerpts from literature, and theoretical frameworks which serve to illuminate, rather than distract, or complicate, the picture. Consequently, this is a deeply effective, and affecting, read.

Thematically this book covers a lot of ground. For instance, it speaks to, and reflects upon: ageing and ageism; existential (in)security; loss in its broadest terms; expectations of counselling; generational difference; grief; ethics; and the therapeutic alliance.

While the intended readership for this book is unsurprisingly most closely aligned with counsellors, and related professionals, those with an interest in phenomenology, ontology, loneliness, and loss (to name but a few) would likewise find it a rewarding and enriching read.

I can think of no better way to conclude and draw this review to an end, than to leave you in Kewell’s capable hands:

“The power of humans to inspire and change each other is a miraculous thing. I offer this work to galvanise us all to live well and die well together” (Kewell, 2019, page 156)

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