Care of the soul

Michael Kearney and Radhule Weininger

in Oxford Textbook of Spirituality in Healthcare

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199571390
Published online August 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199665037 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Textbook in Public Health

Care of the soul

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  • Public Health and Epidemiology
  • Palliative Medicine


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Healing is about relationships. The healing process is one of establishing, tending, and deepening relationships, and may be experienced as a sense of connectedness and meaning. Fear of change, which is, in essence, the existential fear of the unknown and of death as the ultimate unknown, can impede or even prevent this process. While there is something in us that is inherently afraid of death, there is also something in us that is not afraid of death. As clinicians we continuously make choices about to how to prioritize our therapeutic interventions. In this context, we might ask ourselves: do we begin by trying to contain and lessen our patients’ fear or by attending to that in our patients that is unafraid? In this chapter we explore the relationship between fear of death and suffering. We consider how, if unrecognized, this same fear in clinicians may be counterproductive, sabotaging our best intentions to alleviate the suffering of our patients; possibly even compounding the situation. While continuing our clinical efforts to lessen suffering by containing fear, we suggest that it may be helpful for us to move beyond models of care that focus exclusively on problem-solving and damage limitation to ones where, from the outset, care of the soul is prioritized. We propose that the most effective way for us as clinicians to do this is to cultivate and practice a ‘therapeutic use of self’ by attending to our own inner depths, and to that in us that is not afraid of death.

Chapter.  5520 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology ; Palliative Medicine

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