The 8 functions of psychology in palliative care

By palliative care, we mean all those therapeutic strategies that are applied to a person with a serious or terminal illness, such as cancer, so that they feel better and that the illness affects them as little as possible.

This type of care is global, active, continuous and aims to improve the quality of life of people who are in difficult circumstances, their physical and psychological health, ensure their dignity, their autonomy and also prevent or treat the side effects of the disease.

Thus, in addition to treating medical and physical problems, palliative care also serves to solve the emotional, psychological, social or spiritual problems that the person may have. In short, any source of discomfort that the person may present and which is aggravated by the serious illness situation.

It is precisely in the field of emotional problems where the psychology of palliative care can be of great help to any sick person and make a significant contribution to improving their emotional state, as well as to the support and assistance of their loved ones, and even of the nursing staff who take care of them.

What are the main functions of psychology in palliative care?

Both in its aspects of research and applied psychology in the clinical context, the psychology of palliative care has several functions that aim to have a positive impact on both subjective aspects (such as mood and the way it is interpreted) and what is happening is perceived) than in objective aspects (such as how patients, relatives and healthcare personnel relate to each other and their environment). In this sense, here you will find a summary of the main areas of work addressed from the psychology of palliative care.

1. Family support

As indicated, palliative care is a global, active and multidisciplinary intervention strategy, both for the affected person and for those around him through a similar emotional process.

Supporting the loved ones of a sick person is of great importance for their mental healthand also physical, something that is usually not taken into account in our society, although we are seeing more and more progress in this direction.

One of the main tasks of psychologists in the field of palliative care is to accompany and support loved ones who are going through intense grief, a grief that always begins before the death of the loved one.

2. Adapt to patient needs

An individualized intervention adapted at all times to the patient being treated is essential in any approach to palliative care in the field of psychology.

The professional psychologist is qualified to adapt at all times to the essential variables such as the age or cognitive abilities of the person being cared for (Essential in case of dementia and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease).

3. Helps Identify Emotions

Emotional support is one of the key areas of palliative care from a psychological point of view, and in particular accompaniment in the management of subjective aspects in the awareness of death (both the mortality of oneself and that of loved ones).

This accompaniment is done in the first place by learning to identify the emotions that the person feels, by naming each of them and by facilitating their expression with the therapist, for a more in-depth analysis.

4. Train emotional control

Once the person’s emotions have been identified, it is essential to teach him various useful strategies and tools to regulate them, which will have a very positive influence on the person’s mental health.

In this section it is also important to form control over all kinds of thoughts and behaviors that can harm in one way or another the person who looks like them or their environment.

5. Identify patient priorities at all times

Helping to identify from the outset the priorities of the person going through an illness is essential to provide the most appropriate and individualized support possible.

This is usually achieved through a process of psychological therapy in the form of talk which involves providing the most useful tools and strategies to the person. put into words your priorities, your needs, your fears or your worries about death.

6. Emotional support

The emotional support provided by a psychologist expert in palliative care is also one of the important points of this type of intervention, which it usually focuses on treating any psychological disorder the ill person may have.

There are many disorders that are approached from psychology, among the most common we can find anxiety, depression, stress, hostility or emotional lameness.

To successfully treat any of these disorders, it is necessary, as professionals, to have a wide repertoire of social skills, among which stand out empathy, active listening, the basic tools of communication, the non-hypothesis of everything that the person does not say. And all of this must be done to avoid giving false hope.

7. Detect harmful relationship dynamics

Detecting harmful emotional support dynamics among family members (even if well-meaning) is also one of the essential tasks of psychological professionals.

It is also important to offer other more beneficial or constructive behaviors that replace these negative dynamics of emotional support.

8. Multidisciplinary work

We must bear in mind that palliative care they are always implemented from a multidisciplinary strategy in which health professionals such as doctors, psychologists, nurses or physiotherapists intervene.

The psychologist’s job in this type of intervention is also to communicate the important aspects of the patient’s condition to other health professionals in the palliative care units and to maintain close professional contact. In the same way, the rest of the health team must be informed of the relevant socio-cultural, spiritual or religious aspects that have been detected in the sick person or their relatives, which is relevant for the elaboration of mourning by means of facts. symbols and rituals.

Do you want to train in the psychology of palliative care?

If you are thinking of specializing in this branch of psychology, you may be interested in the Master in Palliative Care Psychology offered by the European University in online mode. This 6-month Master’s lasting 30 ECT credits will allow you to become a professional in the care of patients, relatives and other health professionals, all without having to come to the Faculty of Sciences in person. Biomedical and Health through courses broadcast live. In addition, at the end you will obtain a diploma issued by the European University of Madrid. To find out more, visit this page.

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