“What do I need to know about you as a person?”

I was recently learned about Dr. Harvey Chochinov who is an inspiring Canadian doing pioneering work in palliative care.

It is truly exciting to discover these forerunners who have worked so actively and lived so generously, giving an example to new generations about the kind of humanizing care that is possible.

Dr. Chochinov is a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba and Director of the Manitoba Palliative Care Research Unit, CancerCare Manitoba. He has been doing palliative care research since 1990 and has explored psychiatric dimensions of palliative medicine, such as depression, desire for death, will to live and dignity at the end of life. He has also pioneered “dignity therapy.”

According to this paper of his, “Dignity Therapy, a novel, brief psychotherapy, provides patients with life threatening and life limiting illnesses an opportunity to speak about things that matter most to them. These recorded conversations form the basis of a generativity document, which patients can bequeath to individuals of their choosing. Client Centred Care is a supportive psychotherapeutic approach, in which research nurse/therapists guide patients through discussions focusing on here and now issues.”

In this brief YouTube clip, Dr. Chochinov describes what he calls “The Patient Dignity Question” and the significant impact that this open-ended, personalist question can have for patients and those who care for them:

What also strikes me is the value of bearing in mind this question in all of our human relationships as a means to greater depth and connection with others.

If we continually took an interest in what others thought we needed to know about them in order to treat them as the person they are, what difference might this make?

How much more precise could our words, gestures, signs of affection, topics of conversation, and manners of relating be with this knowledge. The patient dignity question is really, fundamentally, a personalist question that can enrich us in any stage of life.

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