Psychosocial Care in Practice

Psychosocial Care

What we know

The term psychosocial denotes both the psychological and social aspects of a person’s life. Psychological characteristics include emotions, thoughts, attitudes, motivation and behaviour. Social aspects denote the way in which a person relates to and interacts with their environment and includes financial and practical issues.

Psychosocial care can help an older person with a life-limiting illness and their family to cope with changes and concerns as they approach the end of their life. Psychological distress for people receiving palliative care may take many forms including fear, feeling overwhelmed, not managing with change, lack of hope, sense of being a burden, spiritual distress, existential distress, anxiety and depression.

What can I do?

Honest and open communication with family members enables them to make decisions about how best to spend their remaining time with their family member:

As communication is central to psychosocial care, for older people the loss of contact with friends and family can be difficult to cope with:

  • take time to talk with the older person, and actively listen
  • promote the government-funded Aged Care Volunteer Visitors Scheme (ACVVS) which arranges for volunteers to visit with older people to provide friendship and companionship
  • listen and use open questions to elicit how the person is feeling.

For assessments, you can use the:

To assess carers’ distress and needs, you can use the:

Specialised psychosocial support from health professionals including psychologists, social workers, counsellors, chaplains or spiritual health practitioners can be used as part of holistic care.

  • Arrange for visits from specialised psychosocial support workers where appropriate.


  • Offer empathy, listen and reflect what has been communicated, and respond to emotional signs and signals of distress
  • Be considerate of grief reactions. Encourage and allow space for grief and sorrow to occur as this enables the person to express feelings
  • Provide timely information that is practical and emotional support so that family and carers don’t feel overwhelmed
  • It is not uncommon for people to require repeated conversations to make sense of new information or changes, particularly if they’re anxious. Allowing them to ask questions, repeat information and offer a space for people to absorb and understand their situation can be very beneficial in preventing misunderstandings, alleviating worries and decreasing feelings of isolation.

Use the palliAGED Self-Care Plan for the Aged Care Team (161kb pdf) to guide your own self-care.

You may like to recommend to family carers the Self-Care Plan for Family Carers (205kb pdf).

What can I learn?

Check out videos from the Agency for Clinical Innovation:

To learn about communicating with people with dementia, watch these videos:

Use these online learning modules to learn about:


Use the resources from ELDAC:

Read in the Therapeutic Guidelines (subscription required):

The National Palliative Care Research Center (US) has information on measurement and evaluation tools in psychosocial care.

What can my organisation do?

Provide communication skills training for staff so that staff feel more attuned to recognising the person’s needs and confident in talking to patients, families and carers and addressing their emotional and social needs.

In line with Standard 9.6 of the National Palliative Care Standards (2018) (358kb pdf), provide education and training to staff in self-care strategies and how to access personal support.

Use the palliAGED Self-Care Plan (161kb pdf) to guide staff self-care to look after their health and wellbeing.

Consider the Compassionate Community movement.

Consider the Swinburne Wellbeing Clinic for Older Adults and find out what services and training they can provide for your organisation.

Consider how volunteers could be involved in a befriending scheme or who might support older people approaching the end of their life. Ensure that they have adequate and ongoing education and training.

In staff recruitment processes, consider including psychosocial competencies in role descriptions.

Develop and maintain a list of people who provide psychosocial screening, assessment and care (e.g. psychologists, social workers, counsellors).

Page updated 31 January 2024