Dr. Saul Ebema.
Culture can be defined as “a grouping of individuals who have some sense of commonality with respect to language, values, beliefs, norms, worldview, accepted behaviors, rituals, and practices.” Culture is a group’s way of life and its influences can significantly impact the dying person’s reaction to the dying process. Even though illness, death, and dying are universal experiences, people’s attitudes and beliefs about them are often shaped by the cultures they come from. Our cultural backgrounds influence the ways we view the world, experience life, illness and death.
Culture impacts the meaning of health, illness, and dying; relationships between patients and clergy; how end-of-life decisions are made; communication styles; and so forth. The challenge for ministers is to learn how cultural factors influence patients’ beliefs, behaviors, and responses to end of life issues. There are three characteristics of cultural competency in Pastoral Counseling.
- Awareness of his/her own assumptions, values, and biases.
- Ability to understand the worldview of the patient.
- Ability to develop appropriate intervention strategies and techniques.
In Pastoral counseling with the dying; a minister needs to consider the following:
- The dying person’s perspective on death and dying.
- The dying person’s perspective on health and suffering.
- The role of spiritual and religious beliefs and practice to the dying person and family.
- The role of the family, including who is considered part of the family.
- How the patient and family communicate.
- The patient’s coping skills.
A diagnosis of a terminal illness often threatens the person’s whole existence. For the patient’s family members and friends, it is often the worst nightmare. To restore death and dying to a place of dignity, ministers need not only cultural sensitivity in order to ensure that all the terminally ill and their families receive the best care possible, but also compassion to provide support and guidance at this most difficult time.
 James W. Green, Cultural awareness in the human services: A multi-ethnic approach, 2nd Ed. (Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1995).
Joyce N. Ginger, Ruth E. Davidhizar and Pamela Fordham, “Multi-cultural and multi-ethnic considerations and advanced directives: developing cultural competency.” Journal of Cultural Diversity 13(2006).