Curing the Dread of Death: Theory Research Practice with Ross and Rachel Menzies (9:30-11am)

The dread of death has appeared throughout recorded human history in the form of art, literature, song, myth and cultural rituals.  In both ancient and modern societies, death has been personified in various forms, such as a feared god or the grim reaper, stalking the terrified living.  The awareness of our own mortality, arguably unique to humans, was famously described by William James as “the worm at the core” of our existence.  The lingering tension of death appears to pervade various cultural and religious practices, such as the meditative handling of skull-shaped bracelets in Tibetan Buddhism, the decoration of graves associated with Dia de Muertos (ie. the day of the dead) in Mexico, or the wearing of a crucifix in various Christian denominations.  Further, Terror Management Theory proposes that much broader cultural practices (eg. following a sporting team, seeking academic achievement, attaining wealth) may serve as defensive mechanisms in the face of the terror of death. 

Considerable experimental research supports the claim that adherence to cultural worldviews may serve to buffer against death fears. In sum, the apprehension or angst about death and immortality appears to be a pervasive aspect of human experience. This workshop reviews the dread of death, and its management, from a broad range of perspectives covering philosophy, art, history, psychodynamic theory, and social, developmental and clinical psychology. Throughout the workshop, one message shines through: Death is not to be feared, but may hold the key to living a vital, authentic life. It will be argued that we cannot live fully without complete acceptance of the fragility and finiteness of life. The challenge is to discover pathways to death acceptance to enable a life of significance and meaning. Practical approaches to death acceptance will be provided in this workshop. 

Rachel E. Menzies completed her honours degree in psychology at the University of Sydney, taking out the Dick Thompson Thesis Prize for her work on the dread of death and its relationship to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). She published her first paper on death fears in Clinical Psychology Review as an undergraduate student, and followed this by convening a symposium on the topic at the 8th World Congress of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (WCBCT) in Melbourne in 2016. Her manuscript on death fears and OCD was the lead paper in the first edition of the Australian Clinical Psychologist. She was recently featured in The Conversation Yearbook 2016, a collection of the top 1% of ‘standout articles from Australia’s top thinkers’ published by Melbourne University Press. In 2017, she gave her first invited plenary address, and an invited workshop, at the 47th Congress of the European Association of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies (EABCT). Both presentations explored death anxiety, existential issues and their role in abnormal behaviour. She is the lead editor of Curing the dread of death: Theory, research and practice, released in August by Australian Academic Press.

Ross G. Menzies completed his undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees in psychology at the University of NSW. He is currently Professor of Psychology in the Graduate School of Health, University of Technology Sydney (UTS). In 1991, he was appointed founding Director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at the University of Sydney, a post which he held for over 20 years.  He is the past NSW President, and twice National President, of the Australian Association for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (AACBT). He is the editor of Australia's national CBT journal, Behaviour Change, and has trained psychologists, psychiatrists and allied health workers in CBT around the globe. Professor Menzies is an active researcher with more than two decades of continuous funding from national competitive sources. He currently holds over $AUS7 million in research funding. He has produced 8 books and more than 180 journal papers and book chapters and was the President and Convenor of the 8th World Congress of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies.