Emotional support and the role of Clinical Nurse Specialists in palliative care

Julie Skilbeck, Sheila Payne
Journal of Advanced Nursing 2003, 43 (5): 521-30

BACKGROUND: Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNS) play a major role in the delivery of specialist palliative care services to patients with advanced cancer, in hospital, hospice and community settings across the United Kingdom. A major component of their work focuses on the delivery of emotional care and support to patients and their families.

AIM: This paper critically examines the literature on emotional care and support for patients with advanced cancer requiring palliative care. The aim is to increase understanding of how CNSs and patients interact and work together to produce emotionally supportive relationships.

METHODS: A literature search was performed using the CINAHL, MEDLINE and ASSIA CD-ROM databases and combinations of the key words: 'emotional support', 'emotional care', 'end of life', 'palliative', 'terminal illness', 'advanced cancer', 'Clinical Nurse Specialist', 'emotional labour'. Additional relevant articles were identified from the reference lists of papers identified by the literature search.

FINDINGS: The literature revealed a lack of clarity about the terms used to describe emotional care and support. However, at the same time, there is a taken for granted assumption that a shared understanding of these terms exists. Developing supportive nurse-patient relationships involves a complex process, one that consists of getting to 'know the patient' through the effective use of communication skills, in a variety of health care contexts. The costs of engaging in 'emotion work' are highlighted.

CONCLUSIONS: Existing research fails to recognize that emotional care and support as a concept is not a fixed, stable entity learnt through experience and socialization, but is moulded by the process of social interaction and by specific contexts and theoretical perspectives. Further methodologically sound research is needed to explore what happens when emotional care and support are delivered in different care settings, obtaining the views of both parties involved. Implications for the practice of CNSs are discussed.

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