Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences

POPLPRAC 720 - Psychosocial Issues in Palliative Care

15 Points

Semester 1



The psychological and social study of patients with cancer or active, progressive disease, unresponsive to curative treatment. Existential philosophy and models of coping with suffering, communication in palliative care, psychiatric disorders in palliative care, and bereavement.

Programme and course advice

This course has a multidisciplinary in approach and is suitable for students eligible for postgraduate study. Health professionals who have fulfilled the admission requirements for postgraduate study are able to enrol in this course.

This course is available in the Postgraduate Certificat in Health Science (Palliative Care), Postgraduate Certificate/ Diploma in Health Sciences, and Advanced Nursing schedules

Postgraduate nursing students who wish to enrol in a Postgraduate Diploma in Health Science (Advanced Nursing) are advised to contact the School of Nursing for guidance on a recommended pathway and core courses that need to be completed.

Other courses that may be of interest are POPLHLTH 746, POPLPRAC 722, POPLPRAC 723, POPLPRAC 724, POPLPRAC 702 and SOCHLTH 732 for health professionals.

This course is one of four courses suitable for a Postgraduate Certificate in Health Science for hospice family support professionals, along with POPLPRAC 720, POPLPRAC 702 and SOCHLTH 732

Learning and teaching

The course is run in distance learning mode and includes two 2-day seminars consisting of discussion sessions and presentations by specialist speakers. Students also receive instructions on how to access the e-learning platform, Canvas, which contains the course outline and details of assessments, the seminars and access to digitised reading material.

Goals of the course

The course will enable the student to

  • Develop an awareness and understanding of the psychosocial impact of life threatening illness on patient, family and care team
  • Develop awareness of own attitudes, behaviours, coping and communication styles
  • Develop an advanced set of skills which enhance ability to work therapeutically with patients and families facing/following life threatening illness
  • Be introduced to the notion of the therapeutic self in palliative care

Learning outcomes 

At the completion of the course, the student will have the knowledge to:

  • Undertake a comprehensive patient history including psychosocial, spiritual, cultural and family dimensions
  • Demonstrate development of communication skills appropriate to working within palliative care
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the differing constructs of the term ‘family’
  • Demonstrate skills in organising and conducting a family meeting/conference
  • Demonstrate a collaborative working style, which enables a patient/family to develop confidence and elicit their own expertise to cope with the dying period
  • Involve social networks and community resources in care
  • Recognise the special needs of children and other groups within the family and social structure
  • Define what spirituality means to them personally and reflect on the ways that impacts on responses to others
  • Separate attitudes of spirituality, attitudes of faith and the concept of suffering
  • Have reflected on the relationship between hope, comfort and spirituality
  • Be able to distinguish between normal and abnormal grief reactions
  • Develop an understanding and skills to assist people through bereavement and loss
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the need for appropriate boundary setting and self-care
  • Understand the effects of emotional distress in self and others
  • Develop personal reflective skills

Course outline

Course components include:

  • Spirituality, models of spirituality
  • Rituals and hope
  • Grief theories
  • Depression or grief
  • Listening skills
  • The therapeutic self

Campus teaching dates 

There are two 2-day seminars scheduled in this course. Please see your timetable on SSO for the room details.


100% coursework. Students working in health care with a component of palliative care as part of their current practice will be able to complete the course assessments.

Course assessments consist of a three-part course diary/journal and a 2500 word essay.

Part one of the course diary is a short introduction to the student and is due at the first seminar. Part two consists of entries and discussion in the diary for the first half of the semester and is due at the second seminar. Part three consists of entries and discussion in the course diary for the second half of the semester and is due in early June. The course diary represents 50% of the total assessment mark and the essay due at the end of the course work represents 50% of total assessment mark. Students who are not in current palliative care practice please seek advice from the teaching team regarding completion of the course journal.

Learning resources

Access to the following resource is recommended.

  • Cherny, N., Fallon, M., Stein, K., Portenoy, R. and Currow, D. (eds) (2015) Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine 5th edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Palliative care journals

A list of recommended websites and digitised readings will be provided at the start of the course.

Course Coordinator

Course Administrator