Spiritual care in palliative care in Europe: Accomplishments and challenges in diversity

EAPC task forces are formed by interested EAPC members from different disciplines and countries that work together to deliver on focused, time-limited projects. Some task forces have evolved into EAPC Reference Groups with a broader scope of work and the ability to deliver on multiple projects.

Marie-José Gijsberts is a palliative care physician and researcher and also Co-chair of the European Association for Palliative Care (EAPC) Reference Group on Spiritual Care. Here, she explains how the accomplishments and challenges of the spiritual care task force have led the transition from task force to reference group and how you could help them to shape it.

Dr Marie-José Gijsberts.

Spiritual care is still the least developed dimension of palliative care. Therefore, a multidisciplinary EAPC Taskforce Spiritual Care was initiated in 2010, aiming to support ‘the development and implementation of spiritual care methods and standards to meet adequately the spiritual care needs of patients, informal and formal caregivers in all palliative care settings’.

Considering the progress the taskforce had made over the years, including several open meetings and sessions during EAPC congresses, a white paper on multi-disciplinary education for spiritual care in palliative care and a review on recent European literature on spiritual care in Europe, the core members of the taskforce agreed that it was time to take their activities to the next level, and applied to the EAPC Board of Directors for a transition to Reference Group Spiritual Care. This transition was approved and taken forward in an open meeting of the Reference Group on 25 May 2019 at the EAPC World Congress in Berlin. As a palliative care physician, dedicated to the challenge of implementation and education of spiritual care in palliative care, I am honoured to support the Reference Group as co-chair for the next three years.

Our new goals are:

‘To develop our public profile and engagement, including a presence on social media, and to identify colleagues who wish to form a team to lead on this.’ The EAPC board suggested specific attention to and engagement with eastern-European countries.

At our meeting in Berlin we invited several liaison members of the Reference Group from inside and outside Europe to share the accomplishments and challenges in their countries. The following themes came up during presentations:

  • In several countries, spirituality is almost synonymous with (Roman Catholic) religion. Some participants explained that attention to non-religious aspects was adopted by psychologists, which may explain the lack of recent papers on spirituality from eastern – and possibly also southern – Europe. The Reference Group could play a role in supporting and bringing together researchers and practitioners that want to explore and exchange spiritual caregiving in religious countries.
  • Also, specialists in spiritual caregiving (healthcare chaplains) and generalists (physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers, psychologists, volunteers) have different professional ‘scope’ and therefore a different challenge in communicating with their patients on spiritual needs. How do we support each other in paving a way in this challenging territory that may lead to customised training and ways to address spiritual issues that fit the professional profile of the generalists?

How to get involved

Looking into our archives, I found that researchers and professionals had indicated they wanted to be a part of the Reference Group’s initiative to implement spiritual care in palliative care. It is still a challenge to manage this ‘horn of plenty’, for instance by bringing people together that are working in the same country. A time-consuming task, but worth the effort.

And last but not least: how can we communicate with all researchers, professionals and volunteers on these subjects? In fall 2019, the core group of the reference group will continue their work on building an international liaison network, a comprehensive social media strategy and to organise a meeting in spring 2020.

If you are interested in participating in one of the above, please email Marie-José Gijsberts, co-chair EAPC Reference Group Spiritual Care.


Editor’s note: This post is among the Top Ten most-viewed posts for the second half of  2019.

This entry was posted in 2019 most-viewed, EAPC Task Forces/Reference Groups, SPIRITUAL CARE, Top Ten Most-Viewed Posts and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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