Healing Beyond the Cure: Exploring the Psychodynamic Aspects of Palliative Medicine

May 2019

This proposes a two-day seminar to deepen understanding of adaptive coping strategies among patients with serious and life-limiting illness. This new framework will inform research studies and curriculum development to disseminate best practices for palliative care clinicians. Palliative care is a growing specialty for patients with serious or life-limiting illness. It emerged from multiple disciplines, including medicine, nursing, chaplaincy, social work, and psychiatry. Now, 90 percent of hospitals with over 300 beds have palliative care programs. Palliative care is proven to improve quality of life and reduce symptom burden for seriously ill patients and their families. Recent studies have demonstrated palliative care’s positive effects on patients’ quality of life, mood, and even enhanced longevity. The underlying cause is still undetermined despite increased evidence they exist. One promising insight that is ripe for exploration comes from emerging data on patients’ coping techniques. Thus, it’s advantageous to discover the psychological framework for optimal patient coping in serious illness to better research and teach these best-practices across medicine. This seminar will engage faculty with expertise across multiple disciplines to discover the psychological model unique for patients coping with life-limiting illness. The seminar will integrate pieces of innovative work underway in Harvard Medical School, its affiliated hospitals, and other nationally renowned institutions. The expected outcome is to describe the psychodynamic model of patient counseling unique to the work of palliative care and subsequently create a foundation for interdisciplinary research that will guide palliative care clinical programs and educational efforts throughout medicine.