Understanding spiritual care as part of hospice

From Mission Hospice & Home Care

Hospice care is known for including palliative medicine – the relief of symptoms and pain. But it also includes spiritual care; indeed, a number of studies and medical organizations recognize the importance of addressing patients’ spiritual pain as a part of total health care.

At Mission Hospice & Home Care, our professional hospice staff includes spiritual counselors Rev. Linda Siddall, Rev. Don Mulford, MK Nelson and Rachel Rosenberg, as well as spiritual care volunteers from a number of religious backgrounds. Our integrated compassionate care includes spiritual support expressly tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes.

While for some, spirituality equates with religion, spiritual care includes any beliefs, practices, and relationships that help people find meaning, comfort, and hope. This may include meditation, family and friends, writings, music, nature, and art.

Spiritual care has been a critical part of hospice care from the beginning. The founder of modern hospice, English physician Dame Cicely Saunders, considered it essential to address a patient’s physical, emotional, social, and spiritual pain: “Spiritual care is not an optional extra for the dying.”

Mission Hospice & Home Care recently held a professional development workshop to help our teams learn more about understanding and addressing patients’ spiritual pain. Richard Groves, a former hospice chaplain and cofounder of the Sacred Art of Living Center in Bend, Oregon, spent the day with medical staff, social workers, spiritual counselors and volunteers, sharing his extensive knowledge about identifying and addressing spiritual suffering and pain in patients and caregivers.

With input from medical professionals and a range of traditions, Groves has developed a Spiritual Health Assessment Tool to help caregivers and patients better understand – and address – the nature of spiritual suffering and pain. Essentially, this scale measures well-being from “extremely anxious” to “completely peaceful.”

Groves equates spirituality with self-awareness – a reflection that includes meaning, forgiveness, relationships, and hope. In The American Book of Living and Dying, he draws from Celtic, Tibetan, Egyptian, and other ancient traditions to provide perspective on humans’ most basic questions about life and death, and offers tools to help ease patients’ spiritual pain.

Groves predicts the coming of what he calls a “conscious dying” movement. “People don’t want to die the way their grandparents died,” he says. By contemplating our own death in advance, “we reap unexpected benefits for the rest of our lives.”