Palliative Care NSW Volunteer Support Services Programme
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Cleaning hearts to talk about spiritual care

When Professor Gerhild Becker recently studied the experience of cleaning staff in palliative care settings in a German hospital [1] she found that they valued their role not for attending to both the physical environment and also the supportive environment for the patients.

Results of our study showed that cleaning staff perceive that they have an important role in the clinic – not only to clean but also to support patients. Serious illness frightens patients and isolates them from their support communities when they need them most. Likewise, patients seem to appreciate being able to speak openly with cleaning staff.

Her research found that cleaners felt most out of their depth when the subject of discussion addressed illness and death. She recommended training in communication skills for cleaning staff.

Professor Becker’s findings reflect the important role that non-clinicians have historically offered in palliative care.

However having conversations with others about spirituality is often complicated by our capacity to reflect on our own spiritual lives, to contemplate and reflect. In talking about the challenges of communicating within the field of spiritual care Prof Carlo Leget [2] reflected that there was ‘deep wisdom’ in first reflecting on and understanding one’s own spiritual beliefs before attempting to dialogue with others.

Being available to other people, without being a clinician, is an essential part of the role of a palliative care volunteer. If you are interested in reading more about spiritual care in the context of palliative care volunteering click here to download Palliare: A Handbook for Palliative Care Volunteers in NSW .

[1] ‘Tidying Rooms and Tending Hearts: An Explorative, Mixed-Methods Study of Hospital Cleaning Staff’s Experiences with Seriously Ill and Dying Patients’ by Karin Jors, Svenja Tietgen, Carola Xander, Felix Momm and Gerhild Becker, published in Palliative Medicine 2017, Vol. 31(1) 63–71. First published online: May 9, 2016. Article first published online: May 9, 2016; DOI: 10.1177/0269216316648071.

[2] Carlo Legget (2016) Presentation to the Hospice NZ Conference. Click here for more information on the EAPC Taskforce on Spiritual Care.

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