Medical and psychological discourse on end-of-life care has steadily shifted over the years from focusing primarily on symptom control and pain management to incorporating more person-centred approaches to patient care. Such approaches underscore the significance of spirituality and meaning making as important resources for coping with emotional and existential suffering as one nears death. Though existential themes are omnipresent in end-of-life care, little has been written about their foundations or import for palliative care practitioners and patients in need. In this article, we explore the existential foundations of meaning and spirituality in light of terminal illness and palliative care. We discuss existential themes in terms of patients' awareness of death and search for meaning and practitioners' promotion of personal agency and responsibility as patients face life-and-death issues. Viktor Frankl's existential logotherapy is discussed in light of emerging psychotherapeutic interventions. Meaning-centred group therapy is one such novel modality that has successfully integrated themes of meaning and spirituality into end-of-life care. We further explore spiritual and existential themes through this meaning-oriented approach that encourages dying patients to find meaning and purpose in living until their death.
Reprinted with permission from Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 2004; 49:366—372; full text of article available online at http://ww1.cpa-apc.org:8080/Publications/Archives/CJP/2004/june/breitbart.pdf and http://ww1.cpa-apc.org:8080/Publications/Archives/CJP/2004/june/breitbart.asp)