Background: Dignity therapy is a brief psychotherapy that has been shown to enhance the end of life experience. Dignity therapy often involves family carers to support patients weakened by illness and family carers are also the usual recipients of the legacy documents created. No research to date has examined the impact of dignity therapy on family carers at the time of the intervention. This study examined the effects of dignity therapy on family carers of people with motor neurone disease (MND).
Methods: This is a cross-sectional study utilizing a one-group pre-test post-test design with 18 family carers of people diagnosed with MND. Outcomes measured caregiver burden, anxiety, depression, and hopefulness. Acceptability was measured with a questionnaire. Feasibility was assessed by examining family carers' involvement in the therapy sessions, time taken to conduct sessions, and any special accommodations or deviations from the dignity therapy protocol.
Results: There were no significant pre-test post-test changes on the group level, but there were decreases in anxiety and depression on the individual level. Baseline measures indicate that 50% of family carers had moderate to severe scores for anxiety prior to dignity therapy. MND family carers saw benefits to the person with MND and to themselves after bereavement, but acceptability of dignity therapy at the time of the intervention was mixed with some family carers indicating it was helpful, some indicating it was harmful, and many expressing ambivalence. Dignity therapy involving MND family carers is feasible and the involvement of family carers has minimal impact on the therapy.
Conclusion: Dignity therapy is not likely to alleviate caregiver burden in MND family carers, but it may have the ability to decrease or moderate anxiety and depression in distressed MND family carers. Dignity therapy is feasible and generally acceptable to MND family carers. Dignity therapists may provide a better experience for family carers when they are aware of acceptance levels and the quality of partner relationships.
Trial registration: ANZCTR Trial Number: ACTRN12611000410954.