Existential Sensitivity and Life Quality in Pallitative Care

Niels Viggo Hansen has received grant from IMK Almene Fond for new research project

2017.05.05 | Anne-Mette Pedersen

A project in practical philosophy, action research and “contemplative group dynamics”

Optimizing treatment for individuals is a growing issue as palliative treatment grows more complex and follows many other goals beside pain management. But how can palliative care truly make a positive difference for individual patients? We pursue this question with a new method of supporting “existential sensitivity” in a specialized, cross-disciplinary team of physicians, therapists and caregivers – facilitation the team’s discovery, sharing and articulation of what is important in the individual patient’s experience. This is a crucial condition for a combined treatment well suited to the needs, values and resources of the patient.

In a modern busy hospital, existential sensitivity is not a given thing in spite of many good intentions. But our previous descriptive-qualitative appear to show that existential sensitivity – or its absence – is something that can be a characteristic of an institution and a team – a shared “spirit” and mode of working. Therefore, it may be possible to improve patient outcomes if this characteristic can be supported or cultivated.

A model of cooperation – and particularly, of introducing “contemplative group dynamics” in staff meetings - will be developed in a series of action resarch cycles with a palliative team at the Royal Hospital in Copenhagen whose work we have been following in a series of qualitative studies of existential dimensions of patient and caregiver experience. The initial model is based on a number of particularly satisfying “best cases” as well as interviews on what was missing in less satisfying cases. The final model may include elements of mindfulness training and/or contemplation based in Christian and other religious traditions in a secular / multicultural context.

In a second phase of the project, the model will be described and operationalized as a training course that can be offered to palliative teams in other hospitals / institutions.

The study will be conducted in cooperation between Niels Viggo Hansen (IMC), Per Sjøgren (head of the Palliative Research Unit at the Royal Hospital, Copenhagen) and Andreas Roepstorff (IMC)


Postdoc Niels Viggo Hansen, School of Culture and Society, IMC.