3 keys to trusting and comfortable relationships with hospice patients

As a hospice social worker, you want to cultivate authentic relationships with hospice patients. Our work relies on genuine connections, where our patients really matter to us, and we matter to them. We either feel comfortable interacting with each other or we see value in moving beyond our comfort zones to connect with each other. Patients embrace the courage to share intimate thoughts or feelings with us, and they feel genuinely supported for who they are.

Relationships are far more complex than a recipe could describe. But recipes are good places to start. Here’s a recipe to support your beautiful professional relationships with clients:

Ingredient #1: Common ground

I connected with one patient last week by mirroring his actions when he was talking while chewing on two bites worth of brownie.

Then I visited a patient who didn’t speak or move but gazed with radiant eyes. I played singing in the rain for her on my phone; she responded with a tear and a slight smile. Afterwards, her daughter asked how I knew to put on music for her. “Music has been her life! That must have meant so much for her.”

Neuro-Linguistic Programming may or may not be panacea that many hope it is, but the idea of mirroring is valuable when it comes to forming connection. Whether we apply it by synchronizing our movements or expressing similar values, similarity breeds comfort.

Ingredient #2: Affirm and don’t judge

Judgment–whether accurate and helpful or not–seems to make the world go round. As social workers, we get to take a break from that. Whatever a patient has done in the past, we can set aside any need to think less of him or her. Our nonjudgment will come across and encourage patients to trust us.

None of us is perfect. We all have flaws or have made mistakes that would get us lambasted if we shared them on Yahoo Answers. But having a counselor who can hear our difficulties without communicating that our difficulties mean we are bad people help us to feel better about ourselves and even take action to improve ourselves.

We can provide that value to our patients.

Ingredient #3: Dedicated effort to getting results

Hospice provides us with opportunities to go above and beyond expectations for the sake of clients. When a family needs a respite stay at the last minute, and no facility admissions coordinators are taking our calls, we could get away with leaving it at that. “Sorry, I wasn’t able to find availability at such late notice.” And sometimes we may have to. And sometimes we can do better by focusing on the mission until we find a solution. Then, when you call the client at 6 p.m. on a Friday to tell her you finally got confirmation from a facility that can take her loved one for a respite stay, this new client will start to trust and respect you more.

When we can make things happen, despite the difficulty, our clients appreciate that. Whether the outstanding feat we achieve is facilitating a trip to a resort paid for by the Dream Foundation, or the resolution of an issue with the social security office, these kinds of results foster appreciation. Appreciation promotes good relationships.

This is just a start

Authentic connections depend on more than be described in any recipe; these ingredients are just a start.

What emerges through your openness, willingness to find common ground, and willingness to serve will usually be something uniquely positive.

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Irvin Yalom's wisdom for hospice social workers

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Hospice counseling: Forming a therapeutic relationship