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Spiritual support for adolescent cancer patients: a survey of pediatric oncology centers in Italy and Spain

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Proserpio, T.; Veneroni, L.; Silva, M.; Lassaletta, A.; Lorenzo, R.; Magni, C.; Bertolotti, M.; Barisone, E.; Mascarin, M.; Jankovic, M.; D'Angelo, P.; Clerici, C. A.; Garrido-Colino, C.; Gutierrez-Carrasco, I.; Echebarria, A.; Biondi, A.; Massimino, M.; Casale, F.; Tamburini, A.; Ferrari, A.

INTRODUCTION: Spirituality is a fundamental aspect of the psychological well-being of adolescents with cancer. This study reports on a survey conducted at pediatric oncology centers in Italy and Spain to examine the situation concerning the provision of spiritual support. METHODS: An ad hoc questionnaire was distributed including multiple-choice questions on whether or not spiritual support was available; the spiritual counselor’s role; how often the spiritual counselor visited the unit; and the type of training this person had received. RESULTS: A spiritual support service was available at 24 of the 26 responding centers in Italy and 34/36 in Spain. The training received by the spiritual counselor was exclusively theological in most cases (with medical or psychological training in a few cases). In both countries the spiritual counselor was mainly involved in providing religious services and support at the terminal stage of the disease or in talking with patients and families. Cooperation with caregivers was reported by 27.3% and 46.7% of the Italian and Spanish centers, respectively, while the daily presence of the chaplain on the ward was reported by 18.2% and 26.7%. CONCLUSIONS: The role of the spiritual counselor in pediatric oncology – in Italy and Spain at least – is still neither well-established nor based on standardized operating methods or training requirements. A model that implies the constant presence of a spiritual counselor in hospital wards may be proposed to provide appropriate spiritual support to adolescents with cancer.

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