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The clinical practice of embodied care: A phenomenological examination of physician-family interactions in oncological treatment

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Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
The purpose of this study was to explore family caregivers’ interactions with physicians as they accompanied their loved ones through cancer treatment. Increasingly, family caregivers have assumed caregiving duties that were once the domain of medical professionals. It is natural, therefore, that family caregivers should seek guidance from the attending physicians in carrying out the multiple and complex responsibilities of cancer caregiving. Yet these interactions serve not just to communicate information and guide care-giving actions. They can be seen to be integral to the quality of care provided by virtue of the manner in which the physicians engage with the family members as a matter or course and in the most telling circumstances of cancer treatment. My aim has been to document how and to what extent the interactions between physicians and caregivers are conducive to a compassionately extended framework of cancer care. This hermeneutic phenomenological study is based on in-depth interviews with five caregivers. Five major themes emerged from the participants’ stories: seeking presence–finding absence; feeling bereft–turning away; turning towards–gestures of presence; to give; and words from the family–a practice of embodied care. The interview data comprising this study has been composed as an extended narrative of how gestures, intonations, facial expressions and stances can be perceived as being crucial to helping family members feel integral to their loved ones’ cancer treatment. They spoke of the power of small, everyday, gestures to create a space of presence. While the participants also spoke of many neglects and indifferences, they also identified physicians who unceasingly gave of their time to be physically and emotionally available to family caregivers of their cancer patients. These physicians were seen to offer the gift of compassionate presence which sustained caregivers and physicians alike throughout the cancer journey. This study holds recommendations for how the space of medical care can be more compassionately defined and where the suffering of the patient, the accompanying family, and the physician can be recognized. Suggestions for transformational healing practices for physicians, allied health professionals, and the family caregivers themselves are discussed.
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This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Smith, Stephen J.
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