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Learning modules

Activity 1: The challenges faced

People with life-limiting illnesses experience a range of psychological, social and spiritual challenges. Each person's experience and response will be different. This is because the challenges faced can arise from many different sources, including:

  • fear of death and dying
  • uncertainty about the future
  • loss of meaning and purpose
  • loss of spiritual direction or beliefs
  • challenges to beliefs
  • changing relationships and roles
  • a sense of unfairness
  • feelings of isolation or loneliness
  • feelings of loss of control
  • feelings of loss of worth
  • loss of the sense of dignity
  • fears of being a burden or a dependent
  • fears of suffering
  • concerns about appearance and body image.

Responding to the challenges

People may respond to these challenges in many different ways. For example, some people will express fear or anxiety while others may be sad, withdrawn, depressed, or angry.

Some may express feelings of helplessness, a sense of guilt, or have problems making decisions. Others feel a sense of peace, purpose and contentment with life, or experience that their relationships with family and friends get stronger.

'Existential distress' is a term used to describe the distress people can experience when confronted by their own existence. People may experience existential distress when facing issues of the meaning in life or a threat to their sense of personal worth. They can also experience existential distress if they feel their personal beliefs are being challenged or they suffer feelings of loss. [1]

Thinking points


1. Yalom, I. (1980). Existential Psychotherapy. New York: Basic Books.