Witnesses of Hope in Times of Despair: Chaplains in Palliative Care: A Qualitative Study

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Hope is an important topic in spiritual care in palliative care but the experiences of chaplains with hope have hardly been explored. The objective of this study was to explore Dutch chaplains’ experiences with hope in palliative care. Semi-structured interviews were conducted, which were thematically analyzed. The 10 chaplains (five females) had a variety of ordinations: Muslim, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Humanistic, or otherwise. Participants spoke about changes in patients’ hope, often implying despair and surrender, in which patients’ self-reflection was pivotal. Participants felt witnesses of hope, not by offering hope, but by acknowledging patients’ hope and despair while being with their patients. They criticized other professionals who, not bearing witness to these experiences, tried to offer hope to patients. We conclude that chaplains may become witnesses of hope in times of despair, which includes the (ideological) critical function of spiritual care.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-40
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Health Care Chaplaincy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Chaplaincy
  • Despair
  • Hope
  • Palliative
  • Spiritual

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