Navigating Emotions and Support: Insights from a Palliative Care Counsellor

What role do you play in the palliative care setting?

As a counsellor in the palliative care setting, I focus on patients’ and their families’ emotional and social needs. I’m particularly passionate about supporting families who are often excluded from the healthcare team. I also help coordinate referrals and prioritize the psychosocial wellbeing of both patients and their families.

Can you share a patient story where you made a difference in a patient’s life?

A woman recently visited my office to collect her chronic medication. During our conversation, I inquired about her mother’s well-being, as I knew her mother had been ill for some time. She shared that her mother was experiencing ongoing confusion. Taking a moment, I sat her down and listened to her concerns. 

I took the opportunity to offer support and education regarding her moms condition. We discussed strategies to comfort her mother, such as spending quality time with her and expressing appreciation. Following our discussion, I provided practical advice—simple gestures like sitting with her, gently brushing her hair, and simply being there.

Often, families are left out of the counselling space and must be prioritized as part of the healthcare team. The short amount of time I spent with this lady meant the world to her; she later came and thanked me for listening and acknowledging her fears.

What are the common challenges you face in the palliative care setting?

One common challenge in palliative care is helping patients and families come to terms with their diagnosis and prognosis. When someone is diagnosed with a serious illness, it can be challenging to move past those words. Life continues, and there is still so much living to do. Sometimes treatments don’t work anymore, and the decision to stop them becomes necessary; it can be difficult to accept, but there is always something we, as palliative care practitioners, can do to ensure people live as well as they can. 

Living well doesn’t come without uncomfortable conversations, but we can move forward once we get that out of the way. Building trusting relationships from the start is important for these conversations to happen; we don’t give up on patients and families; we offer them hope through supportive care.

Any tips for patients/families to support wellbeing or care

For struggling family members, remember to take care of yourself too. You can only help others if you’re well. Take breaks to recharge.

To patients, know that you’re not alone!



Silindokuhle Makhathini

Palliative Care Counsellor

KZN (Rural)