Psychotherapy for End of Life Care
Approaching the end of life can be an incredibly difficult and emotional journey. No matter your age, your culture, or your medical history, nearing the end is likely to bring up intense feelings of grief, sadness, anger, or confusion. End of life care can last anywhere from a few days to several months, but generally, the healthcare team’s goal is to make the individual as comfortable as possible while maintaining their dignity.
Psychotherapy can play an important role in end of life care. Although our healthcare system may mainly focus on physical health, a therapist can work with a terminally ill patient to preserve their mental, emotional, and spiritual health as they prepare to pass on. This can make a dramatic difference in the person’s quality of life, and it can provide meaning and support for their loved ones.
Mental Health Concerns During End of Life
For many people, the later stages of a terminal illness are unimaginably scary. Some people approach their end of life care with a sense of peace, but it’s normal to experience end of life anxiety, depression, or other strong emotions.
A significant amount of people with terminal illnesses experiences end of life depression, which is marked by feelings of grief, hopelessness, anger, or loss of interest. While these emotions are completely understandable and valid during end of life care, psychotherapy can help to ease the emotional burden.
Anxiety is another common experience for people nearing the end of their lives. Terminally ill patients may feel anxious about death, medical complications, leaving their loved ones, and many other concerns. Death is the ultimate loss of control, and facing it can bring up strong feelings of fear.
The Role Therapists Play in End of Life Care
Psychotherapy is one of the most valuable treatments for patients with terminal illnesses. The following are the main roles that an end of life therapist plays in the field of palliative care:
The most important skill a therapist offers is their clinical support. A practicing therapist creates a safe, supportive environment for their clients to express their emotions and learn how to cope with challenging situations. In end of life care, this is more important than ever. The bond between a client and therapist is sacred, and the relationship can help the client feel heard and understood.
End of life therapy provides an opportunity for patients to come to terms with their illness to the best of their ability and to find ways to create meaning in their remaining time. The therapist may address their clinical symptoms, such as anxious thoughts, panic attacks, or low mood, and by improving these symptoms, the patient can improve their overall quality of life.
Palliative care should be a collaborative form of treatment. To help the individual be as comfortable as possible, all of the professionals involved in their care should understand the roles they play within a larger framework. Therapists can educate other healthcare workers on the mental health challenges that arise during end of life treatment, and they can offer advice for approaching patients with empathy and compassion.
They can also offer their expertise to the family and friends of patients with terminal illnesses. By educating loved ones on the best ways to handle the topics of death and dying, therapists can ensure that families create a safe, loving, and supportive environment for the patient.
Research and Advocacy
The role of end of life therapy in palliative care has not been researched as thoroughly as other types of treatments. It undeniably plays an essential role in quality of life management, though. While some mental health experts focus more on the clinical side of end of life therapy, others direct their attention to research and advocacy.
Understanding and proving the link between psychotherapy and better quality of life during palliative care will help therapists advocate for their services. By fighting for the right of every patient to have access to mental healthcare if they want it, therapists help to make palliative care a stronger and more effective field.
What Therapists Offer Their Clients
Therapists provide support for end of life clients in a number of ways. The following are some of the most meaningful benefits of end of life therapy:
Direct Treatment of Mental Health Disorders
If a patient shows signs of a clinical mental health disorder, the therapist may address those symptoms in a similar way to a traditional therapy session. Their goal is to find the root cause of the emotional distress, help the individual process their emotions, and empower them to discover ways to cope with their struggles.
In palliative care, the cause of the depression, anxiety, or other concerns may seem obvious. Exploring the client’s thought processes to better understand how they feel can be helpful, though. The therapist may not be able to change the patient’s circumstances, but they can help them relate more positively to themselves and the world around them.
Dignity should always be a core component of end of life care. Regardless of a patience’s physical health status or their medical needs, everyone deserves to maintain a sense of personhood until the end. Every patient should be able to decide what this means for them. For some people, dignity means returning home and living with a sense of normalcy. For others, it involves being surrounded by loved ones and other sources of comfort.
Psychotherapy addresses your mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, so it provides an excellent opportunity to explore the meaning of dignity. The therapist can help the patient identify what they want as they approach the end of their life so that they feel as comfortable and fulfilled as possible.
Dignity therapy is a popular method of psychotherapy for palliative care patients. With this type of therapy, patients discuss their memories, life lessons, and hopes, which allows them to define their legacy. The patient and therapist work together to create a document or audio recording to leave with their loved ones. Not only is this profoundly meaningful for the family and friends of the individual, but it can be a rewarding emotional experience for the patient to create a tangible, lasting legacy.
Support for Loved Ones
Grief is never easy, and therapists can offer support for family and friends after an individual passes away. Confidentiality is at the foundation of psychotherapy, so counselors won’t share the content of a therapy session with family unless the patient gives express permission. However, palliative care therapists do often offer grief counseling to the loved ones of a terminally ill patient before and after their death.
The end of life is a difficult stage, but many health professionals work to make the experience supportive and comfortable. Psychotherapy is an important part of care for the patient and for their loved ones. By addressing the emotional concerns that arise near the end of life, patients can develop a sense of peace and purpose.
Menachem Psychotherapy Group provides counseling services for clients in the Los Angeles area. If you have any concerns about your mental or emotional health, you can reach out to us today for support.