Below are excerpts from an interview with Carla Sofka, Illene Cupit, and Kathleen Gilbert, authors of Dying, Death, and Grief in an Online Universe: For Counselors and Educators


SpringBoard: What inspired you to write this book?

Carla Sofka: Well, back in the 1990s, I was fascinated by how technology was being used in amazing ways to deal with death education and grief counseling. I had never seen websites before that were dealing with such a taboo topic and over the last twenty some odd years, it has just changed incredibly. And so we realized that there really wasn’t much written about these topics so I asked two of my dear colleagues and a lot of other colleagues to write about the ways that technology is being used in death education and grief counseling, in ways that range from how blogs are being used as a way to cope with grief, how are online websites being used as virtual memorials and virtual cemeteries to commemorate the deaths of individuals, how are college students using Facebook and other social networking sites to cope with loss and stay connected with loved ones that have died, or how is Skype being used to connect families who are dealing with death over incredible geographic distances. There are so many rich ways that technology is being used to help in these areas that it was time that someone wrote about it to try and get more information out, to get people thinking about how it can be used wisely in our work, and to stimulate people to do more research about these topics.

SpringBoard: How is technology changing and shaping thanatology research?

Illene Cupit: There is not much research that has really looked at thanatology in an online environment and the way that research is typically done has to be modified to some extent when you start looking at the kinds of things that people put on social media sites or on blogs. There is a whole different way to do research and it’s very important that we get that information to researchers about the kinds of things they need to look for and what they have to do. As an example, one of the questions that is emerging right now is what is ethical to do and what isn’t ethical to do when people post things online as a part of the public domain, and does a researcher have the right to access that information? So these are some of the issues we consider in our book.

SpringBoard: How has communication technology changed death education?

Kathleen Gilbert: Well, if you think about death education, primarily you think of it as a lecture or a discussion on campus, and then you might have students who go visit a cemetery or funeral home. It’s relatively constrained by geography. With the online universe, you can reach anywhere in the world. So you can incorporate video from around the world, you can incorporate interaction from around the world. You can have completely online classes that involve students who interact with each other that are from a variety of cultures and have a variety of experiences. So it really enriches the opportunities that we have as educators about dying, death, and bereavement.

To see the full interview with the above authors, please click here.


Author Bios

Carla J. Sofka, PhD, is Associate Professor of Social Work, Sienna College, Loudonville, NY.  She is a director of the Baccalaureate Social Work Program, a member of the ADEC and NYS Social Work Education Association, and Associate Editor of Death Studies.

Ilene C. Noppe, PhD, is Professor, Human Development/Psychology/Women's Studies, University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Wisconsin. In addition to her contribution to Adolescent Encounters with Death, Handbook of Thanatology, Living with the Dying, and Child Development, her many articles have appeared in such journals as Journal of Mental Health Counseling, The Forum, and Death Studies.

Kathleen R. Gilbert, PhD, CFLE, FT, is Associate Professor of Applied Health Science and Director of Undergraduate Education, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. Dr. Gilbert is current President of ADEC, past President of the Indiana Council on Family Relations, and on the Editorial Board of Traumatology, Family Science Review, and Journal of Qualitative and Ethnographic Research; Guest Editor of Illness, Crisis and Loss, and a reviewer for Omega, Death Studies, and JOGNN