Dignity therapy: family member perspectives

J Palliat Med. 2007 Oct;10(5):1076-82. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2007.0002.


Purpose: Dignity Therapy is a novel therapeutic intervention designed to address psychosocial and existential distress among the terminally ill. This brief, individualized approach to end-of-life care invites patients to discuss issues that are most important to them and to articulate things they would most want remembered as death draws near. These discussions and recollections are recorded, transcribed, and edited into a generativity document, which are usually given to family or loved ones. While the marked benefits of Dignity Therapy on patients' psychosocial and existential distress have been reported elsewhere, this paper presents data on bereft family members' perspectives regarding the impact of dignity therapy on patients and themselves.

Subjects and methods: Sixty family members of deceased terminally ill patients who previously took part in Dignity Therapy completed a questionnaire to elicit feedback about the impact of Dignity Therapy on both the dying patient and themselves.

Results: Ninety-five percent of participants reported that Dignity Therapy helped the patient; 78% reported that it heightened the patient's sense of dignity; 72% reported that it heightened the patient's sense of purpose; 65% reported that it helped the patient prepare for death; 65% reported that it was as important as any other aspect of the patient's care; and 43% reported that Dignity Therapy reduced the patient's suffering. Regarding family members, 78% reported that the generativity document helped them during their time of grief; 77% reported that the document would continue to be a source of comfort for their families and themselves; and 95% reported they would recommend Dignity Therapy to other patients of family members confronting a terminal illness.

Conclusion: Family members endorse Dignity Therapy as a therapeutic intervention that moderates their bereavement experiences and lessens suffering and distress in terminally ill relatives.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Australia
  • Bereavement
  • Canada
  • Counseling
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Family Therapy*
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interview, Psychological
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Palliative Care*
  • Patient Satisfaction*
  • Professional-Family Relations*
  • Psychotherapy*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Right to Die / ethics*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tape Recording
  • Terminally Ill*