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A Grief Expert's Grieving Experience

Question: What propelled you into psychiatry?

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Dr. Katherine Shear: Well, I basically was always interested in human behavior. And I sort of thought about majoring in English, but then I had an interest in science, so somehow I ended up in medical school and psychiatry just drew me. And then my specialty is really psychotherapy research. And that, I got interested in because I was very interested in psychotherapy, but at the time that I trained to do it, it was not very well defined, psychotherapy, and it hadn't been tested. There was no scientific basis for it. And since I was very interested in science, I thought it would be – I just felt, again, sort of impelled to try to figure out what works and if it works and what works and how it works and things like that.

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Question: Do you have firsthand experience with depression or grief?

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Dr. Katherine Shear: Well, let's see. I've certainly had experience with grief in basically both of my parents died. And then also, I lost a cousin who I was quite close to when she was 39 and I think I was about in my early 30s at that point. So I learned different things from each of those experiences. What I learned from my cousin's death, which was very surprising to me, was that in a strange sort of way, after she died, I actually started to feel more comfortable with death, which, if you had asked me before that, I would have said the opposite would have happened. But something about, you know, I just started having these thoughts every once in awhile that because my cousin's name was Jackie and because Jackie was there, somehow it would be okay for me to be there, too, or for other people to be there. So that was something I think I brought with me over the years without really thinking that much about it until I got interested in grief.

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And then when my parents died, that was a very different experience. And there I had the opportunity to – again, people I was very, very close to – and I was involved in their care at the end of their lives and I was with them at their bedside, both of them, when they died. So that gave me, you know, a different kind of insight into what it feels like to be in that situation. I think, in particular, even though both of them were quite ill but they time they died, the very strong since of disbelief that you have very initially right after someone dies. And also, as prepared in the sense as I was for their death, each of them, the emotions were very, very strong for a period of time after that.

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Question: Do your patients' cases ever move you personally?

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Dr. Katherine Shear: Well, of course, you know I am a psychotherapist. And by definition, I think I'm a person – and most of us are – who are very moved by the people that we work with. So I would say pretty much everyone that I've worked with has touched me emotionally. And it's a very good question because I think that is one of the ways that we learn about people and how to work with people, is that we are open emotionally to people in our work with them and so we learn emotionally about them. And you're right; far beyond anything that we could learn by collecting the reading skills that we do collect and some of the more I guess scientific research.

Recorded on November 3, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen

Columbia bereavement therapist Dr. Katherine Shear discusses her personal encounters with the emotion at the heart of her work.

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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Has science made religion useless?

Placing science and religion at opposite ends of the belief spectrum is to ignore their unique purposes.

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  • Science and religion (fact versus faith) are often seen as two incongruous groups. When you consider the purpose of each and the questions that they seek to answer, the comparison becomes less black and white.
  • This video features religious scholars, a primatologist, a neuroendocrinologist, a comedian, and other brilliant minds considering, among other things, the evolutionary function that religion serves, the power of symbols, and the human need to learn, explore, and know the world around us so that it becomes a less scary place.
  • "I think most people are actually kind of comfortable with the idea that science is a reliable way to learn about nature, but it's not the whole story and there's a place also for religion, for faith, for theology, for philosophy," says Francis Collins, American geneticist and director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "But that harmony perspective doesn't get as much attention. Nobody is as interested in harmony as they are in conflict."

Signs of Covid-19 may be hidden in speech signals

Studying voice recordings of infected but asymptomatic people reveals potential indicators of Covid-19.

Ezra Acayan/Getty Images
Coronavirus
It's often easy to tell when colleagues are struggling with a cold — they sound sick.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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Supporting climate science increases skepticism of out-groups

A study finds people are more influenced by what the other party says than their own. What gives?

Photo by Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study has found evidence suggesting that conservative climate skepticism is driven by reactions to liberal support for science.
  • This was determined both by comparing polling data to records of cues given by leaders, and through a survey.
  • The findings could lead to new methods of influencing public opinion.
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