Providing spiritual support is an important aspect of palliative care. Supporting and acknowledging a person’s spirituality has been shown to reduce the distress that many people experience when they are dying. [1]

There is no universally accepted definition of spirituality. For many people spirituality is linked to religious belief and practices or recognition of a higher power. A person's spirituality may be independent of religious belief. Spirituality may be defined as a person’s connections to other people, to the natural world or to the search for meaning. In essence, spirituality depends on the individual.

Spiritual pain has a negative effect on well-being and may be expressed in physical (increased pain) and emotional responses (such as anxiety, depression or anger).

A recent discussion of spirituality at the end-of-life identified: [1]

Barriers to providing spiritual support

  • the lack of a universal language of spirituality makes it  a difficult concept to discuss.
  • residents and families may not understand the concept of spirituality or know how to respond to questions of spirituality.
  • nurse, doctors and other staff caring for residents may not feel comfortable or competent to discuss spiritual matters.
  • an over reliance on ‘assessment tools’ to identify and meet an individual’s spiritual needs.

Aids to providing spiritual care

  • training for all staff in providing spiritual care.
  • training for all staff in communication skills.
  • a resident centred approach to care.
  • Useful Tip

Health care workers who understand their own belief systems and how those beliefs affect their work are better equipped to recognise and support the belief systems of others.

  1. Spencer-Adams S. Incorporating spirituality in end-of-life nursing care. End of Life Care. 2011;1(3). Free Full text available online by registering to access the End of Life journal through the St Christopher's End of Life Journal website.

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Last updated 07 June 2017