Care of the human spirit and the role of human dignity therapy: a systematic review of dignity therapy research
Background: Dignity Therapy (DT), an intervention for people facing serious illness, focuses on dignity conservation tasks such as settling relationships, sharing words of love, and preparing a legacy document for loved ones. Research on DT began more than a decade ago and has been conducted in 7 countries, but a systematic review of DT research has not been published. Methods: Using a PubMed search with key terms of ‘dignity therapy’, ‘dignity psychotherapy’, ‘Chochinov’, and ‘dignity care’, we found 29 articles on DT and retained 25 after full-text review. Results: Of these, 17 articles representing 12 quantitative studies establish that patients who receive DT report high satisfaction and benefits for themselves and their families, including increased sense of meaning and purpose. The effects of DT on physical or emotional symptoms, however, were inconsistent. Conclusions: Conclusions point to three areas for future research on DT, to determine: (1) whether the DT intervention exerts an impact at a spiritual level and/or as a life completion task; (2) how DT should be implemented in real world settings; and (3) if DT has an effect on the illness experience within the context of not only the patient, but also the family and community. Building on this body of DT research, investigators will need to continue to be sensitive as they involve participants in DT studies and innovations to facilitate the generation and delivery of legacy documents to participants near the end of life.