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Let’s get spiritual…it’s easier than you think

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Chaplain blog 2: Reverend David Southall discusses the common misconceptions surrounding spiritual care

Humour me for a moment will you? Imagine yourself in this hospital bed.

You’ve been there for a few days now with people prodding and poking you. There is no immediate news of your discharge. Your family live a few miles away, and you are not sure of what will happen in the future.

Let me ask you for a moment to consider your feelings. I wonder what they are and as I list some of them, tick them off in your mind (and add your own): fear, confusion, boredom, sadness, anxiety, loneliness, apprehension, anger, and more.

And now let me ask you for a moment to consider your needs. Now, of course you want to be fixed, and you want your obs and drugs and investigations; but what are the sort of things that will sustain you and give you hope over the coming days.  

Now I can’t begin to list these things because they are so diverse, so I’ll tell you what they are for me: a smile; a kind word; a prayer; a chat about motorbikes; some interest shown in who I am; my family; pictures of my many pets.

So which of these things are spiritual? I want to answer: “All of them”. All of them tap into my spiritual being; all of them, in different ways sustain me and let me know that I am a unique human being with unique needs and requirements. And your list will be different but special to you.

So now see the faces of your patients, with their different needs; their unique life story; their inner desires hidden to all but a few.

There is often a confusion about spiritual and religious care. When I was nursing, colleagues steered clear of it as if it were some type of magic. Or worse still they made a correlation between religion and spirituality – so if someone was not religious, that was the end of the conversation.

“There is often a confusion about spiritual and religious care”

Religion is, of course, a defined system of beliefs which determines practice. Spirituality has fewer boundaries but is no less important. It relates to our own existence and how we see the world; and, of course, its implementation can make a huge difference.

Religion and spirituality, however, are not unfathomable quantities and can easily be assessed by a few simple questions; all you have to do is ask the patient or their relatives – oh, and listen to their answers. It’s so easy to presume that a religious person might like prayer and a spiritual person might not. However, quite the reverse might be true, so just ask.

Why not start with Religion:

  • Do you have a religious belief and is that significant to you now?
  • Is there a faith leader who you would like us to contact on your behalf?
  • Is there anything that you can do which will help you express your faith whilst you are here in hospital/nursing home/any other venue?

And then move onto the Spiritual:

  • What things in life are special to you and you hold dear? What makes you laugh or cry?
  • What helps you cope and gives you meaning?
  • What lifts your spirits when you are low and what has helped in the past?
  • Who/what has shaped your life? (Family, friends, pets, politics, beliefs,hobbies, the arts, other influences)?

“It’s so easy to presume”

Don’t fear reprisals; patients and relatives will delighted that you are showing an interest in their spiritual and religious needs. Simply ask and make a difference. You will be surprised at how such simple questions elicit responses that tap into the religious and spiritual make up of your patients and their extended network.

If you immerse yourself in these questions, like countless of colleagues have done before you, then in essence you are undertaking a spiritual assessment. And in implementing what you have heard you are going some way to meeting the spiritual needs of patients and relatives.

So let’s get spiritual…it’s easy

For more information, have a look through this excellent piece on spiritual care in nursing from Nursing Times:

Spirituality 1: Should spiritual and religious beliefs be part of patient care:

Or visit RCN for the Spirituality Pocket Guide


There are lots of stories about spiritual care in action on the Chaplain’s Blog where you can comment and add your stories and experience.



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