The Institute for Palliative Medicine at San Diego Hospice

Spiritual Counselors

Spiritual care is of critical importance in the spectrum of palliative care services. When individuals experience pain of any sort, one must attend to all aspects of the person’s life and experience to palliate the pain and relieve suffering. IPM has worked diligently to understand how spiritual pain might be a contributing factor to a person’s discomfort when faced with illness, as well as how spiritual assessment and intervention can bring relief to the pain and suffering that often accompanies illness.

Spiritual Counselors are integral members of our interdisciplinary teams. They work collaboratively with all other professional disciplines, volunteers and community providers to ensure that every patient and family members’ needs are met. Their focus on the spiritual needs of patients and families includes the following*:

  • Sensitivity to multi-cultural and multi-faith realities
  • Respect for patients’ spiritual or religious preferences
  • Understanding of the impact of illness on individuals and their caregivers
  • Knowledge of healthcare organizational structure and dynamics
  • Accountability as part of a professional patient care team
  • Accountability to their faith groups

Addressing each person’s unique needs is based on careful assessment of the patient and family’s goals of care, their beliefs about life, death and faith. Particular attention is paid to four domains of spiritual pain: forgiveness, relatedness, meaning and hopelessness. (Groves, 2005) Supportive interventions are developed based on this assessment in collaboration with the interdisciplinary team. The spiritual counselor’s work will help alleviate any pain or suffering one might be experiencing as a result of unresolved issues related to one’s own spirituality.

Spiritual Counselors also provide leadership within the team to help all team members understand the spiritual nature of each case. They also facilitate ways for the team to honor the lives and deaths of those cared for by the team. Others in the organization look to Spiritual Counselors as a source of support for staff and volunteers as well.

Spiritual Care Services are also an important part of the education and research done at the Institute. We are committed to finding ever better ways of understanding and responding to the spiritual needs of those facing illness. IPM offers learning opportunities in the realm of spiritual care to physicians, nurses, social workers, spiritual counselors/chaplains, volunteers and others who work in the healthcare setting.

*(Vandecreek, Burton, 2001)


For more information, please contact The Institute for Palliative Medicine at +1 (619) 278-6425 or e-mail