Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Improving sensitivity of volunteers for spiritual stress with patients in palliative care

Introduction: Volunteers in care focused roles are definitely the persons in palliative care who spend the most time with patients. But are they sufficiently equipped to recognise signals of spiritual restlessness, stress or suffering? These appear to come often hidden of masked, not well articulated. The managers of a hospice took initiative, wrote a proposal and received a grant to develop a method to increase volunteers’ sensibility for spiritual stress with patients in palliative care. Several barriers for identification of spiritual needs and offering specialised help were analysed. For instance it was observed that patients share existential and spiritual concerns with volunteers, who appear to consider this as private information, too personal to share with other volunteers or the coordinator/manager. Another barrier is a result of secularisation, common forms and rituals are not being used any more. Many types of ‘beliefs’ or worldviews exist and often is not clear what type of expert can be of help in case of existential suffering at the end of life. The aim of this project was to develop a method that improves sensitivity of volunteers for spiritual stress with patients in palliative care. A project of one year was started in which two researchers and two hospice managers worked together intensively in developing an observation method to improve recognition of spiritual needs in patients. We tried to improve the attention for hidden signals and encourage reflection on gut feelings of volunteers. The project was guided by a group of eight experts and a group of ten volunteers, providing feedback on the whole process. For dissemination purposes the national organisation for volunteers in palliative care (VPTZ Nederland) participated. Results were published as a book.