It’s a common misconception that palliative care biography services are mainly to capture the life story of someone dying for their family.
Manager of the Volunteer Support Service Programme at Palliative Care NSW Kate Bowman says ‘the goal is not to give your family a pamphlet with photos – that is the by-product’.
Palliative care biography services are in fact a way to re-engage with oneself and connect back to who we were before they developing an end-of-life condition.
Palliative care patients have slowly become too sick to work, too sick to do their hobbies and too sick to see their friends.
‘Their world shrinks and shrinks and you are left with a carer and doctors’ treatments.
‘Everything that makes who you are, slowly gets eroded away,’ Ms Bowman says.
Kate Bowman of Palliative Care, NSW.
‘The biographies are not valuable because you get a story of someone’s life but rather because it a therapeutic tool to help them re-connect with their identity at a time when their world has been reduced to doctors and medicine and interventions and they’ve lost dignity, autonomy, and capacity,’ Ms Bowman says.
Telling their story helps patients to think about what’s important to them and what has been great in their life.
People can think they don’t have a story to tell but Ms Bowman says that is another misconception.
‘Everybody’s got a story but it might seem boring to them because they’ve lived it.
‘However, again it’s not about telling others about your life — it’s about connecting to one’s self.’
She says this is the case unless, in the case of a dying parent, the service is specifically putting together a picture book or a book for their children to remember them by.
Palliative care biography services boom
Ms Bowman has watched palliative care biography services grow.
Originally there was only the Sacred Heart biography service and she says after some press coverage there was a surge in interest when 200 people enquired about becoming biographers.
So, the service gradually expanded across NSW where it is now offered in Sydney and beyond including at Broken Hill, Bowral and Illawarra-Shoalhaven.
The Sydney Children’s Hospital Network also has a biography service at Westmead, Randwick and Bear Cottage in Manly.
To learn more about volunteering with Palliative Care NSW visit List of Biography Services in NSW – please also let us know about other ones near you.
Palliative care patients can benefit from feeling like who they were before they became ill – something biography services can help with. Image: Pixabay Truthseeker08
And highlighting services in Victoria
Melbourne also has a biography service Eastern Palliative Care (EPC) offered free to those in the eastern region.
EPC are developing a ‘Train the Trainer’ course on how to develop a volunteer biography program.
According to EPC’s Fiona Toogood they are the largest volunteer based biography service in Australia.
They report bereavement benefits to the families of the dead, with some families printing hundreds of copies and sending them round the world to family and friends.
Palliative care biography services require their volunteers to undergo intense palliative care training and biography service training and have an adept level of computer literacy.
For more information from EPC contact Volunteer Services Consultant Krystal Wallis at KWallis@epc.asn.au or call 1300 130 813 and ask to speak to the volunteer services or biography coordinator.
To see a list of Biography Services in NSW, go to:
For more on Biography Services, see