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The lived experience of volunteering in a palliative care biography service

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2015

Elizabeth Beasley
Faculty of Education, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Joanne Brooker*
Cabrini Monash Psycho-Oncology, Cabrini Health, Melbourne, Australia Department of Psychiatry, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Narelle Warren
Department of Anthropology, School of Social Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Jane Fletcher
Cabrini Monash Psycho-Oncology, Cabrini Health, Melbourne, Australia
Christopher Boyle
School of Education, University of New England, Armidale, Australia
Adriana Ventura
School of Psychology, Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia
Susan Burney
Cabrini Monash Psycho-Oncology, Cabrini Health, Melbourne, Australia School of Psychological Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia
Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Joanne Brooker, Cabrini Monash Psycho-Oncology, Cabrini Institute, Cabrini Health, 183 Wattletree Road, Malvern, Melbourne, 3144, Victoria, Australia. E-Mail:



Many patients approaching death experience hopelessness, helplessness, and a depressed mood, and these factors can contribute to a difficult end-of-life (EoL) period. Biography services may assist patients in finding meaning and purpose at this time. The aim of our study was to investigate the lived experience of volunteers involved in a biography service in Melbourne, Australia, using a qualitative methodology.


The participants were 10 volunteers who had participated in a biography service within a private palliative care service. Each volunteer was interviewed separately using a study-specific semistructured interview guide. The transcripts of these interviews were then subjected to thematic analysis.


Analysis yielded the following themes: motivations for volunteering; dealing with death, dying, and existential issues; psychosocial benefits of volunteering; and benefits and challenges of working with patients and their families. Our results indicated that volunteering gave the volunteers a deeper appreciation of existential issues, and helped them to be more appreciative of their own lives and gain a deeper awareness of the struggles other people experience. They also suggested that volunteers felt that their involvement contributed to their own personal development, and was personally rewarding. Furthermore, the results highlighted that volunteers found that encounters with family members were sometimes challenging. While some were appreciative, others imposed time limits, became overly reliant on the volunteers, and were sometimes offended, hurt, and angered by what was included in the final biography.

Significance of Results:

It is hoped that the findings of the current study will provide direction for improvements in the biography services that will benefit patients, family members, and volunteers. In particular, our findings highlight the need to provide ongoing support for volunteers to assist them in handling the challenges of volunteering in a palliative care setting.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

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