Spiritual care in palliative care: Recent European research and future developments

Revd Dr Andrew Goodhead, Member of the European Association for Palliative Care Task Force on Spiritual Care, and Spiritual Care Lead at St Christopher’s Hospice, London, UK, reviews the conference: Spiritual care in palliative care: Recent European research and future developments. 

Revd Dr Andrew Goodhead

Revd Dr Andrew Goodhead

The opportunity to hear experienced researchers and practitioners in spiritual care is rare and always valuable. The recent conference ‘Spiritual Care in Palliative Care: Recent European research and future developments’ (24 November 2014), hosted by the Sir Halley Stewart Trust, Cicely Saunders International and King’s College London, was one such occasion.

Planned by Dr Lucy Selman, Cicely Saunders International Faculty Scholar at King’s College London, the day covered a wide range of themes, from the perspective of a carer whose son received palliative care to a host of research presentations by researchers and practitioners from across Europe. Topics included establishing research priorities in spiritual care, cultural and spiritual needs, spiritual care in nursing home settings, the development and evaluation of training programmes, assessment and history taking, and international collaboration in research. Approximately 100 attendees from ten different countries were challenged during the conference, not simply to consider the importance of spiritual care per se, but also to discuss how spiritual care can be delivered appropriately by all healthcare professionals and volunteers working in palliative care, and what research is needed to drive forward evidence-based spiritual care.

At its heart, this conference held the original vision of Dame Cicely Saunders – ‘You matter because you are you’ – as a central premise, as befits one of the first of a series of events being held at the Cicely Saunders Institute, King’s College London, to commemorate Dame Cicely’s death in 2005. As well as Dame Cicely’s brother, Mr Christopher Saunders, speaking on the relevance of spiritual care to her vision, we also saw a video extract of a 1994 interview with Dame Cicely which gave insight into her life work and commitment to spiritual care as a core component of palliative care.

During breaks and at lunchtime, attendees had the opportunity to view the poster exhibition. These posters were the result of diverse research in spiritual care from America, South Africa, Uganda, Denmark, India, the UK and the Czech Republic. The poster prize was awarded to the Rev Hamilton Inbadas, for his research, entitled ‘Understanding spirituality at the end of life in India: A historical-cultural approach’.

The conference followed on from the 2012 Sir Halley Stewart Trust Symposium on Spiritual Care in Palliative Care, when a group of invited experts, clinicians, researchers, patients and carers gathered to establish a research agenda following the EAPC survey 1 led by Lucy Selman and Teresa Young. Videos of the presentations delivered at the 2012 symposium are available through the CSI YouTube channel (see link below); presentations from this year’s conference will be available in 2015.

Research exploring the role of spirituality in serious illness and the provision of spiritual care in palliative care is essential to ensure that evidence-based spiritual care remains integral to palliative care. This excellent conference was an opportunity to be challenged in thinking and practice and an important contribution towards the ongoing development of spiritual care research internationally.

1. Selman L, Young T, Vermandere M, Stirling I, Leget C; Research Subgroup of European Association for Palliative Care Spiritual Care Taskforce, Research priorities in spiritual care: an international survey of palliative care researchers and clinicians. J Pain Symptom Manage. 2014 Oct; 48(4):518-31. doi: 10.1016/j.jpainsymman.2013.10.020. Epub 2014 Mar 27.





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