26 July 2011

'Dignity Therapy' Gives Comfort to Dying Patients

Dignity therapy involves a short course in psychotherapy that focuses on helping patients with life-threatening or life-limiting illnesses, that are capable of verbalizing themselves, to do so in a manner that allows them to feel that they can accomplish needed activities in the end-of-life setting.

It encourages these patients to heal family relationships and express themselves in what they desire for the following generations plus pass along information to the younger generations. This form of therapy also encourages saying things to loved ones that have remained unsaid to achieve closure. The therapist then helps the patient craft a meaningful document based on the 60-minute sessions.

By using dignity therapy for those that had less than six months to live, it helped them find some meaning and purpose to the end of life and to share their life's story and experiences with family members. When you talk to people about their life, you allow them to step out of the current situation and become the parent, business person or what their occupation was. This allows the patient to be someone and not just a number.

Getting to know the person, not the patient, allows them the opportunity to explain what their role has been in the family, the community, and express what they are happy about in what they have accomplished. The researchers comment that the patients who received dignity therapy “often has a quality-of-life experience that they could not have expected and although this is difficult to assess, it can be poignant and profound.

As an example, it is stated that a 56-year-old woman said: “Mostly, I want my family to know that I'm okay with dying and they must move on. The therapy showed me that I am not the cancer, I am still in here. I am so grateful for that because I lost myself.... It really helped me remember who I am.”

Several authorities who reviewed the study commented that this type of therapy should be offered to all patients with terminal illnesses. The feeling has been that if you don;t have a long time to be in therapy, it won't be helpful, but that is not true. Dignity therapy will help patients finish their lives on a positive note and can go far in healing familial relations that might be undone otherwise.

The transition from active treatment to palliative care is often difficult for patients and their families, and this can even be true for healthcare professionals intimately involved with the care of the patient. Psychotherapeutic interventions, such as dignity therapy, offer timely opportunities for patients and families to address important issues.

This stood out as an important issue in the study report. There are some other thoughts that are helpful in the results of the study that you can read here and another report here.

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