Importance of Dignity Therapy in working with the dying

Dr. Saul Ebema

Dignity therapy is a form of psychotherapy designed for terminally ill patients and their families. The focus is to document the most meaningful moments of a dying person’s life.

In dignity therapy, the patients are asked a series of questions about their life history, and the parts they remember most or think are most important. Their answers are transcribed by the hospice chaplain and edited into a polished document that could be passed on to the patient’s family members as the patient’s legacy. Terminal illness poses a great threat to human dignity leading to depression and suffering.

The purpose of dignity therapy is to assist the patient in finding meaning and purpose in his or her life by addressing issues he or she most wants to remember, or that have the greatest significance to his or her being.[1]

Finding dignity can decrease suffering and distress and, theoretically, also impact anticipatory grief.

In dignity therapy, the patient reviews his or her life with assistance from a therapist who asks questions based on the empirical model of dignity. Questions on significant events, roles, and accomplishments are asked in order to assist the patient in finding purpose, meaning, pride, and hope in his or her life.

Difficult issues, such as the post-death burden to families can be discussed in order to help the patient prepare the family for the difficulty ahead.[2]

Dignity therapy is meant to be empathetic, encouraging, hopeful, and respectful. It has been found to increase both dignity, and a sense of purpose and meaning.

In a study conducted by Chochinov et al, “100 terminally ill patients participated in dignity therapy with their hospice workers. In the end, 76% thought it increased their sense of dignity; 68% thought it increased their sense of purpose; 67% thought it increased their sense of meaning.”[3]


[1] Chochinov et al., Effect of dignity therapy on distress and end-of-life experience in terminally ill patients, 753- 762.

 [2] Ibid., 755.

 [3] Ibid., 758.

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