Developing Strategies For Effective Spiritual Care at End of Life

By Seasons | December 15, 2021

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As the end of life approaches, people often start to reexamine their spirituality in ways that they haven’t before. It’s a time of change and exploration as questions and emotions that may have been hidden for years start to emerge. While we provide physical care to our patients and their families, it’s important to be there to support the whole individual, including psycho-social and spiritual needs. Developing strategies to be able to support our patients and understanding the resources available is essential to the healthcare provider.

Understanding Some Key Terms

It’s important to understand that spirituality can mean something different to everyone. The word spiritual can be used in many ways, and it is most often tied to a sense of purpose in living and a sense of connection with everything. Spirituality includes beliefs, values, hopes, and yearnings by which each person makes sense of the elements of life.

Religion is defined as the practice of a particular system of faith and beliefs within a cultural setting, including rituals, sacraments, and ceremonies specific to one's own religious/faith system.

Someone may be either spiritual or religious, both, or neither – but it’s important to understand the background of patients. Effective spiritual care should help patients and caregivers find meaning and promote a sense of connection and peace in the face of suffering, grief or death.

Developing the Strategies

Patients and families often are looking for an empathetic and compassionate interaction. When you’re present for them by taking some time to interact with their spirituality, it can lead to increased rapport and comfort. Key elements of spiritual support are compassion, calmness, empowerment, exploration, and meaning. Below are a few ways to get started demonstrating these themes.

  • Ask the Patient and Family How You Can Support Them Spiritually and/or Emotionally. You don’t need a background in spiritual care to provide some level of support. By asking patients and families this simple question, you can demonstrate your genuine care and concern for their complex identities.

  • Listen to Fears and Concerns. It’s not essential to have a shared spiritual background in order to have a meaningful interaction around spirituality. If you can be present with patients and families and listen to their fears and concerns with receptivity and openness, this can go a long way. You should endeavor to be present in these conversations without imposing your own beliefs and background.

  • Identify meaningful/important spiritual practices. Once a patient and family have indicated that spirituality has significance for them, you should ask and learn about what is meaningful to them. Perhaps they would like to be visited by a chaplain, be connected to resources, or simply want someone to sit and chat with them or read to them. Patients and families may be unaware of the resources available to them, and you can be a conduit to ensuring they have all the spiritual support they need.

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 Effective Spiritual Care Interventions

At the heart providing and facilitating spiritual care for patients is finding opportunities for patients and families to focus on relationships, life review, and spiritual practice. If you’re able to assist in identifying spiritual priorities or goals, you can work with your team or community resources to begin meeting the unique needs of your patient and their family. Some key interventions you can incorporate are:

  • Encourage opportunities for emotional and spiritual healing for patients and families.

  • Ask questions to facilitate the exploration of their spiritual, philosophical, or religious beliefs and practices offer comfort, meaning, or support.

  • Share stories of how other patients and families have found meaning, hope, and healing during this time of life.

  • Be emotionally and spiritually present in the face of suffering and despair.

Anything you can do to help families as they journey through the end-of-life experience and spiritual questions, searches, and discoveries can make an immense impact on patient experience and satisfaction. You don’t need to be an expert on religion or spirituality to make a difference – simply being a facilitator to help patients and families take the next step on their spiritual journey can provide new meaning and immense comfort at the end of life.

Learn how hospice chaplains can make a difference through spiritual care

 

Sources

  1. Spiritual Care and Social Work: Integration into Practice; Health Care Chaplaincy Network and the Spiritual Care Association, 2018
  2. Clinical Practice Guidelines for Quality Palliative Care, 4th Edition, National Coalition for Hospice and Palliative Care, 2018
  3. Patient’s Spiritual and Cultural Values for Health Care Professionals, HealthCare Chaplaincy Network. 2014
  4. How hospice staff members prepare family caregivers for the patient’s final days of life: An exploratory study, Karen A Kehl
  5. What Questions do Family Caregivers want to Discuss with Health Care Providers in Order to Prepare for the Death of a Loved One? An Ethnographic Study of Caregivers of Patients at End of Life, Hebert, RS, Schultz, R, Copeland, V, Arnold, R,, Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2008, Volume 11, No. 3.
  6. VandeCreek, L., & Lucas, A. M. (2001). The discipline for pastoral care giving: Foundations for Outcome Oriented chaplaincy. Haworth Pastoral Press.
  7. Care of the human spirit and the role of dignity therapy: a systematic review of dignity therapy research
  8. Dignity therapy, psycho-spiritual well-being and quality of life in the terminally ill: systematic review and meta-analysis
  9. How hospice staff members prepare family caregivers for the patient’s final days of life: An exploratory study, Karen A Kehl
  10. What Questions do Family Caregivers want to Discuss with Health Care Providers in Order to Prepare for the Death of a Loved One? An Ethnographic Study of Caregivers of Patients at End of Life, Hebert, RS, Schultz, R, Copeland, V, Arnold, R,, Journal of Preventative Medicine, 2008,
    Volume 11, No. 3.

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