Institute of Advanced Studies

Päivi Hietanen Lecture


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Access Recorded Lecture

Where Do We Find Hope When Facing A Terminal Illness?

A public lecture by Päivi Hietanen, oncologist and psychotherapist, Helsinki.

HietanenAs an oncologist and psychotherapist Päivi Hietanen has met many cancer patients and their family members who struggle with anxiety and depression when facing a life threatening illness. Her lecture dealt with the following questions: How do people find hope when life’s order is replaced by disorder and loss of basic trust? What roles do significant others play? What happens to relationships?

A diagnosis of a serious disease is often a surprise and usually causes some kind of psychological crisis with difficult and changing emotions. The coping process is very personal, and everyone has his or her timeframe, however in general, most people find a new balance within a few months to a year.

In this lecture, Dr Hietanen referred to research that was conducted by interviewing seriously ill patients and their relatives to detect different mental maneuvers they used as a way of creating hope. She framed this in the context of her long clinical experience. The following processes are discussed: finding meaning in falling ill, changing values, grounding in everyday life, selecting and reframing information, relying on a feeling of sound body, focusing on concrete projects, etc. Patients are by no means passive victims in the face of their illness but rather are actively finding ways of looking at their situation in a positive light. This is a creative process, which takes time and makes it possible to go on living and staying psychologically sound.

Support from relatives and from friends is helpful in a difficult situation. Many people wonder how they can help. The various forms of support will be discussed in the lecture.

Hope is deeply rooted in a human being and finds different forms at each phase of a disease. Understanding the importance of “hope work” helps us as relatives, friends and healthcare professionals to support the patient and allow space for hope at the end of a life.

Päivi Hietanen is a medical doctor, PhD, and psychotherapist. She has worked extensively with cancer patients as an associate professor at the department of Oncology at the University Central Hospital in Helsinki. Päivi currently is a medical editor-in-chief for the Finnish Medical Journal. She is a frequent speaker on communication and ethical issues in health care.

Her key research interests and teaching are on breast cancer, coping with serious disease and doctor-patient communication.

This lecture was part of the 2016 Institute of Advanced Studies’ Medical Humanities Public Lecture Series and was co-sponsored with the School of Primary, Aboriginal and Rural Health Care, UWA.