“Life Within the Person Comes to The Fore”: Pastoral Workers’ Practice Wisdom on Using Arts in Palliative Care

Clare O’Callaghan, Libby Byrne, Eleni Cokalis, David Glenister, Margaret Santilli, Rose Clark, Therese McCarthy, Natasha Michael

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Pastoral care (also chaplaincy, spiritual care) assists people to find meaning, personal resources, and connection with self, others, and/or a higher power. Although essential in palliative care, there remains limited examination of what pastoral workers do. This study examined how pastoral workers use and consider the usefulness of art-based modalities. Methods: Qualitative research was used to examine the practice wisdom (tacit practice knowledge) of pastoral workers experienced in using visual arts and music in palliative care. Two focus groups were conducted. Thematic analysis was informed by grounded theory. Results: Six pastoral workers shared information. Three themes emerged. First, pastoral workers use arts as “another tool” to extend scope of practice by assisting patients and families to symbolically and more deeply contemplate what they find “sacred.” Second, pastoral workers’ art affinities inform their aims, assessments, and interactions. Third, pastoral workers perceive that art-based modalities can validate, enlighten, and transform patients and families through enabling them to “multisensorially” (through many senses) feel recognized, accepted, empowered, and/or close to God. Key elements involved in the work’s transformative effects include enabling beauty, ritual, and the sense of “home” being heard, and legacy creation. Discussion and Conclusion: Pastoral workers interpret that offering art-based modalities in palliative care can help patients and families to symbolically deal with painful memories and experiences, creatively engage with that deemed significant, and/or encounter a sense of transcendence. Training in generalist art-based care needs to be offered in pastoral education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1000-1008
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • art
  • chaplaincy
  • music
  • palliative care
  • pastoral care
  • qualitative research
  • spiritual care

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