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What is Dignity Therapy?

Whenever a family member or loved one is close to the end of life, he or she may be at peace with the situation. Unfortunately, many don’t feel that sense of closure. They may feel like a burden to their family or lose their sense of self-worth. Loss of self-esteem and feelings of guilt can grow from the lack of independence that comes with getting older. 

It’s difficult for a person to be physically reduced with health problems and dependent on others. Terminally ill patients can begin to lose hope. Research shows that dignity therapy is a solution that can help bring comfort at the end of life. So, what is dignity therapy?

Dignity therapy is a novel, brief psychotherapy that provides patients with terminal illnesses an opportunity to speak about things that matter to them. It’s a relatively new therapy based on an old concept; people who are close to death want others to remember them for who they were, not what they are now.

An NPR article on dignity therapy, “For the Dying, A Chance to Rewrite Life,” shows how this can be a powerful opportunity for terminally ill patients. The developer of dignity therapy, psychiatrist Harvey Chocinov, was able to counsel those who were dying. As he did so, he saw many of the patients he worked with wanted to have something that would outlast their physical being, a legacy. This type of therapy allows patients to give surviving heirs a lasting memory.

How Does Dignity Therapy Work?

A clinician can prescribe dignity therapy. It involves several hour-long sessions of guided conversation with a trained professional. These sessions allow the patient to have time to talk about what matters most to him or her. Here are some of the steps your loved one may take if he or she chooses this treatment.

  • Fill out a dignity therapy inventory. The initial assessment allows the counselor, psychologist or trained professional to see what aspects of life the patient wants to discuss. 
    • The most common things patients want to discuss include:
      • Accomplishments, meaningful roles and life history
      • Hopes and dreams
      • Legacy and instructions to heirs
  • Participate in the therapy sessions. After the inventory, the patient can have one or more talk sessions in a safe, comfortable environment. If the patient allows, the interviewer can record and transcribe the conversation.
  • Creation of a legacy document. The final step is to take the transcriptions of the conversations and form them into a cohesive document. The patient can then look over the paper and approve or make edits to it.
  • Transfer the document to family and friends. The terminal patient can then transfer the paper to his or her loved ones.

Is Dignity Therapy Beneficial for Terminally Ill Patients?

Research has shown that dignity therapy can be beneficial for patients towards the end of their lives. One study resulted in high patient satisfaction with this treatment. Most patients said they felt a heightened sense of dignity and meaning. They also believed this document would help their family. 

The relief that patients show after dignity therapy means they can live out their last days in a better mental state. These sessions can make patients feel less like a burden to their family and help them to have the peace of mind that their legacy will remain after they pass. 

Should My Loved One Participate in Dignity Therapy?

Excellent palliative or hospice care should always be a priority for a loved one who is in the final days of his or her life. After finding caring and compassionate hospice care, some form of dignity therapy can be beneficial. It’s a way for your loved one to express concerns or relay important information he or she wants you to have. 

If dignity therapy is not an option, try scheduling out some time to talk with your loved one. Lending a listening ear can give your friend or family member an opportunity to deal with the difficult feelings that come with death.

Is your loved one dealing with a terminal illness? Are you looking for award-winning care to help fill his or her last days with life? Contact Crown Hospice in Cape Girardeau and Poplar Bluff to see what expert, compassionate hospice care can do for your friend or family member’s last days.

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