Published
5 January 2024

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The importance of caring for pain beyond medicine

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We interview Mandy Bruce, a psychosocial & spiritual team lead at St Christopher's Hospice, to understand the importance of caring for pain beyond medicine, for people nearing the end of life.

In March, St Christopher’s is hosting a new conference: The Case for Contemplative Care. We asked Mandy Bruce, who leads our Psychological and Spiritual team and whose idea the conference is, to explain the basics of contemplative care, the benefits (for patients and practitioners), how the conference came about and what delegates should expect on the day. 

What is contemplative care?

“It’s about what we can offer to support people who are suffering at the end of life, that works with and also goes beyond medicine and practical solutions.

“Pain and suffering are experienced very uniquely by different people. This is about exploring how we can offer a quality of presence, accompaniment and bearing witness that offers up an opportunity to be supported in their experiences on a deeply felt level.

“The Cicely Saunders’ model of modern hospice care was based in what matters most to each unique individual as they came to end of their life. Contemplative Care is a way of truly honouring and giving presence to this.

“At the conference we’ll be hearing from speakers who will be sharing what it means to them and why it is important and joining in workshops to explore what working in this way might mean for our own practices. Keynote speakers are two Zen Monks, Sensei Chodo Robert Campbell and Sensei Koshin Paley Ellison are leaders in the field of contemplative palliative care in New York. Their practice draws on the teachings of both Buddhism and Dame Cicely Saunders.

“They will be joined by researcher, and the first humanist hospital chaplain Lindsay de Wal, as well as Rachel Andrzejewska who, after years as a palliative care nurse recently trained as an art psychotherapist and spiritual companion. Nagasiddhi, a Buddhist palliative care chaplain will be exhibiting his contemplative sculptures and Molly MacAllister, a palliative care nurse and poet will be offering us spoken word poetry.”

Why is contemplative care important?

“It makes for an experience of end of life where patients and carers feel fully met, seen and heard, however they are feeling. Also, there is a high instance of burn out for professionals working in the field and being present to so much pain and death. This way of working offers us a greater container within which to manage this work in the longer term.

Who should be involved in contemplative care?

“This is a learnt approach that is suitable for everyone who works with serious illness, palliative care or bereavement – medics, health care assistants, chaplains, allied health professionals, counsellors, volunteers. It is an approach that works across all faith and belief systems and works with the medical model.

“This is not just for chaplains and therapists, it is equally relevant to medics, allied health professionals and volunteers

What are the benefits?

“Contemplative care is truly person-centred, holistic and compassionate patient care. It helps us to deepen our understanding of the ways in which we can offer attuned and empathetic support for those we care for, whilst imbuing each encounter with the care necessary for practitioners to avoid burnout. So, the benefits are experienced both by the patient and the practitioner.”

What are the big questions we are asking in contemplative care?

“Contemplative care inherently questions the medical only approach which, by its nature, is deductive. We want to explore how we can interweave this approach that looks to address the pain that goes beyond that which can be medicated, so we can offer people a truly holistic approach to people  – both those at the end of life and those in bereavement.”

Why should people attend The Case for Contemplative CARE conference?

“I wanted to organise this conference because I see a lot of pain and suffering on the wards at the hospice and in the community, that goes beyond the kind of pain that can be medicated. This occurs particularly within palliative care as people become aware of their existential concerns. How can we truly meet people in this experience in order to benefit them as they journey towards the end of their lives?

“I wanted to bring people together who are also interested in how we can explore being with suffering in a meaningful way while being conscious of burnout.

“Andrew, the Lead Chaplain and I here at St Christopher’s have come together, one from the spiritual side and one from the creative therapies side, as we are addressing the issues in similar ways, just from slightly different angles.

“This conference complements our Facing Death Creatively that has become a fixture in the St Christopher’s conference calendar and has become a showcase and sharing platform for best practice and new ideas for the use of creative arts in palliative and end of life care.

“There are ways we can shut off to suffering and ways that we can be with suffering that make a difference to the quality of the experience of the person who is suffering and our experience too.

“I would encourage anyone working in palliative and end of life care, whether that’s as a doctor, a creative art therapist or a nurse, allied health professional to come and hear from some of the leaders in the field about ways in which we can come together to address pain that goes beyond what can be medicated.

“We’ll be delving into creative presence and into the place of transformational change and how to be in that place when transformation is occurring.

“There will be plenaries, workshops, a self-guided labyrinth for reflection and time to network, connect and share.

“I hope that the mix of formal presentations from the quality speakers and the experiential workshops will inspire delegates to develop their own personal insights into how they can introduce contemplative care into their daily work in a meaningful and effective way.”

To find out more about The Case for Contemplative Care and to book your place, click here. Hurry to take advantage of the early bird rate – by 31 January.

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