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Finding Meaning in Suffering

Deal, Belinda PhD, RN, CEN

doi: 10.1097/HNP.0b013e31822271db

Nurses commonly encounter pain and suffering, and alleviation of pain and suffering is a focus of the nurse's job. Spirituality and religion may assist patients who are suffering, and understanding the relationship between spiritual influences and suffering can help nurses better care for patients. Finding meaning in suffering has been described as a transcendent experience. Nurses can help patients find meaning through interventions such as listening to and witnessing suffering, connecting suffering and spirituality, creating a healing environment, and inviting reflections on suffering. Patients are “wounded story tellers” who can use their stories to make sense of their illness. Little research however has looked at patients' stories and caregivers' response in relation to patients' suffering. This article describes how patients find meaning in suffering and how nursing interventions can assist suffering patients. The process of caring for a suffering person is painful for the nurse and requires exceptional effort on the nurse's part, but the very act that drains the nurse can also create the fuel for compassionate care.

College of Nursing and Health Sciences, The University of Texas at Tyler.

Correspondence: College of Nursing and Health Sciences, The University of Texas at Tyler, 3900 University Blvd, Tyler, TX 75701 (

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.