Why we need more poetry in palliative care

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Abstract

Objectives

Although many well-known poems consider illness, loss and bereavement, medicine tends to view poetry more as an extracurricular than as a mainstream pursuit. Within palliative care, however, there has been a long-standing interest in how poetry may help patients and health professionals find meaning, solace and enjoyment. The objective of this paper is to identify the different ways in which poetry has been used in palliative care and reflect on their further potential for education, practice and research.

Methods

A narrative review approach was used, drawing on searches of the academic literature through Medline and on professional, policy and poetry websites to identify themes for using poetry in palliative care.

Results

I identified four themes for using poetry in palliative care. These concerned (1) leadership, (2) developing organisational culture, (3) the training of health professionals and (4) the support of people with serious illness or nearing the end of life. The academic literature was mostly made up of practitioner perspectives, case examples or conceptual pieces on poetry therapy. Patients’ accounts were rare but suggested poetry can help some people express powerful thoughts and emotions, create something new and feel part of a community.

Conclusion

Poetry is one way in which many people, including patients and palliative care professionals, may seek meaning from and make sense of serious illnesses and losses towards the end of life. It may have untapped potential for developing person-centred organisations, training health professionals, supporting patients and for promoting public engagement in palliative care.

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