Best Practice in Telephone Bereavement Support

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Grief is both a universal and intensely personal experience. While grief is a normal, healthy response to loss and can include physical, emotional, cognitive, behavioural, spiritual, social, and sexual aspects, we still may need support to journey with grief. Research suggests that all people who are bereaved have some level of need, such as the need for compassion and acknowledgement of loss. And getting the right level of support, at the right time, can help prevent complications from grief.

Telephone bereavement support may be an appropriate approach to support some individuals in their grieving.  While telephone bereavement support is widely used, there is minimal guidance as to what telephone support should comprise and little is known about what constitutes best practice.  To better understand emerging best practice, Staniland and colleagues (2023) conducted a study to explore bereavement care providers’ perceptions of best practice in telephone bereavement support.

Data was collected through semi-structured interviews with 26 providers of telephone bereavement support to explore participants’ experiences of providing telephone bereavement support and perceptions of what constitutes best practice. Participants were employed in hospitals, hospices, and other palliative care settings and in various professions, with the most frequent being social workers, nurses, chaplains.

Seven themes were constructed during thematic analysis:

  • A Valuable Service with Limited Resources – Telephone support may be perceived as “less threatening” to clients. Generational, cultural and geographic considerations may impact the suitability of telephone bereavement support for some clients.
  • The First Call – Key elements of initial contact include clarity of purpose, centering the client, and creating a connection.
  • The Dance of Rapport – Rapport was discussed as central to best practice, but challenging to develop. Being well prepared for each contact was identified as important in developing rapport.
  • A Space to Share – Telephone support offers a space for clients to share experiences and emotions, and for the practitioner to provide reassurance and validation.
  • Identifying and Responding to Risk – Participants highlighted the importance of an ongoing assessment of the clients’ wellbeing, assessment of developing ongoing mental health difficulties and identifying suicide risk as part of telephone bereavement support.
  • Maintaining Contact – Providers indicated that flexibility was needed to ensure they were meeting the client’s needs. Connecting with clients during significant times can pre-empt more significant needs.
  • Training and Development Needs – Telephone bereavement requires a specialist skill set, but limited training and guidance is available.

This study highlighted that telephone bereavement support is a valuable and accessible service that is acceptable to clients with varying backgrounds and needs.  Strategies for effective preparation and delivery were identified.  The authors suggest that guidelines, training and validated tools could enhance the delivery of telephone bereavement support.

Source: Staniland, L., Too, C., Butshiire, L., Skinner, S., & Breen, L. J. (2023). Best Practice in Telephone Bereavement Support: A Thematic Analysis of Bereavement Support Providers’ PerspectivesOMEGA-Journal of Death and Dying, 00302228231199876.