Pastoral Care Counselors and Dealing with Denial of PatientsElizabeth Kubler Ross identifies denial as the first response to grief. She considers it to be a natural reaction to sudden and horrible news. In her seminar on the dying, she hoped to share with pastoral care counselors, health care professionals and ministers the necessity of denial in the progress through grief.
While not everyone follows the same pattern of grieving, pastoral care givers can be assured to witness many cases of denial. The looming question, however, is when can denial become dangerous, if it ever even can be?
Kubler Ross experienced one case of a woman who was diagnosed with cancer. She attended a faith healing service and proclaimed she was healed despite everything medical science proved otherwise. Her behavior was consistent till the very end insisting she was healed. Nevertheless, she continued her treaments, medications and visits to the hospitial. During that time, she would joke of the foolishness of these treaments only till her body finally broke down and she had to come to the heart breaking conclusion of her dire situation.
Kubler Ross never contradicted her denial explicitedly. Instead, she would never confront the woman on the issue of the supposed healing or say otherwise. Her primary concern was that the woman continued to take the prescribed medications necessary. Through simple requests to continue to take one’s medication, Kubler Ross implicitedly resisted the denial.
This type of denial was far from dangerous but critical to the woman’s coping of her physical situation. It allowed her to carry on day by day. As long as the woman did not resist the medications or therapies, then the denial was not dangerous.
Cases where denial become dangerous are when the person refuses treatment or carries on doing activities that are harmful to their health. Some people and their denial will even lead them to insane adventures and spending sprees.
The primary lesson for pastoral care givers to learn from Kubler Ross is to react to most denial in an implicit way that does not damage a person’s coping. Merely ensure the denial does not damage them health wise.
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Mark Moran, MA