Medical Caregivers and Their Own Preconceived Notions About Death
In counseling it is always taught to keep one’s own preconceived notions or past out of the objective judgement during a session with a patient. The same should hold true for medical caregivers. This represents a large portion of doctors, nurses, social workers and even pastoral counselors.
While counselors and social workers recognize the psychology behind death, many doctors are not trained in emotional caregiving. They tend to not treat the emotional symptoms but only the physical ones. Treating the disease overtakes treating the wholeness of the human person.
With these things in mind, doctors need to also look at themselves–and this goes for nurses and counselors as well. What ideas do you have on death or the terminally ill? Do patients suffering in a cancer ward remind you of a lost loved one, or does the scent of death terrify you to such an extent, you cannot face them?
Maybe you feel if you avoid the issue of death with patients, you will not have to discuss it in length with them. Kubler Ross in many of her studies noticed such behaviors from doctors and nurses who confidently felt the patient did not demand long and detailed accounts of their condition. However, upon review, Kubler Ross discovered that the patients sensed the discomfort of the doctors and nurses and decided not to discuss death because of these attitudes.
So the reality was that many patients played off the emotional indifference or fear of the doctors and nurses. These terminally ill patients then lost a critical element of treatment for their own emotional well being. Instead of dealing with their own fears, these doctors and nurses avoided these fears by avoiding the patients they swore to help.
With such lack of pastoral training and difficult fears of their own, many medical caregivers are unable to treat emotional symptoms of grief or simply talk to the patient.
This can only be overcome via education but also facing one’s own fears of death and understanding patients and why they react or do not react to certain things. Anger, indifference, compromise and denial are all reactions or better yet symptoms of grief when someone learns of impending death. Doctors and nurses need to overcome their own fears so they can treat these emotions as well as they treat physical symptoms of a disease.
If you are interested in Pastoral Thanatology Certifications, please reveiw the program.
Mark Moran, MA