Implementing spiritual care in palliative care: Europe

Carlo Leget, Chair of the EAPC Taskforce on Spiritual Care and vice-president, and Professor of Ethics of Care and Spiritual Counselling, University of Humanistic Studies, Utrecht, the Netherlands

Professor Carlo Leget

Professor Carlo Leget

This month the European Journal of Palliative Care (EJPC) starts with a new series of articles on implementing spiritual care in palliative care. Each time, the latest developments of a different country are presented by an author who is familiar with the particular state of affairs of that part of Europe. Is there so much going on in this area that a whole series of articles is needed to report on this topic? Well, yes and no.

On the one hand the area is still very much in a state of development. For ages, spiritual care has been studied by a wide range of disciplines and from a broad spectrum of cultural and religious or non-religious backgrounds. The field is still struggling with many theoretical issues of language, definitions and methodology. Many questions about how to integrate the spiritual with the psychosocial and physical dimension of care are still to be answered.

On the other hand, there is a wide variety of initiatives in Europe by people who feel that meeting existential issues in palliative care is too important and urgent to wait for all theoretical problems to be solved first. Moreover, in order to be able to solve these problems you need a culture in which all professional caregivers – and not only chaplains – realise they can contribute to the patient’s dealing with existential issues.

My own experience in the Netherlands, for instance, was that ten years ago it was very hard to focus attention on spiritual care in palliative care, since we were lacking common ground. The Netherlands is very much a secularised country in which people deal with existential questions in their own individual way. Using the word ‘spiritual’ might open doors in one team of caregivers, and close doors in another. By starting a four-year long process of writing a consensus-based guideline on spiritual care for palliative care practice many things happened. We drew attention to the issue, involved people, encouraged their commitment and eventually wrote a text that was accepted as an authoritative text for professional caregivers in the Netherlands. Once having achieved this text the next logical step was education.

From a European perspective this is only one example of a regional initiative that helped us to implement spiritual care. Examples are a source of inspiration, and inspiring each other is one of the ways that palliative care progresses. We very much hope that this new series of articles in the EJPC may contribute to new ideas in other European countries.

Find out more…
The article to which this post relates is ‘Implementing spiritual care at the end of life: the Netherlands. Where’s the humanity? by Carlo Leget, and is published in the July/August issue of the European Journal of Palliative Care (volume 19, number 4). If you already have a web-based subscription to the EJPC you will be able to download and print this issue plus all articles in the EJPC archive.

Members of the EAPC receive discounted subscription rates to the EJPCclick here  to find out more and subscribe online.

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