Why spiritual care is not as abstract as you may think

It’s already part of your everyday nursing practice – whether you are aware of it or not

A nurse can provide spiritual care simply by holding a patient's hand and connecting with them
Picture: Science Photo Library

Is spirituality a core part of your being, or is the word hard to swallow due to its religious connotations and your personal beliefs?

Research has shown that nurses can feel uncertain of their skills in the area of spiritual care and be fearful of it being used to promote religion.

Yet the practice is a fundamental part of nursing. Put simply, it’s the therapeutic relationships that nurses form with patients and the actions that underpin those connections.

‘The comforting touch on a hand or arm, making eye contact and being fully present with the person in front of you all lie within this field’

You’re probably already performing some spiritual care, perhaps just not consciously.

The comforting touch on a hand or arm, making eye contact and being fully present with the person in front of you all lie within this field.

Making contact with patients in a way that’s meaningful

Our clinical article on embedding spiritual care into everyday practice explains in more detail other elements of this approach, such as active listening, discussing with patients their anxieties over a procedure or treatment, and performing a spiritual assessment.

A spiritual assessment sounds quite daunting, doesn’t it? Yet it can simply be asking open questions and developing an empathetic relationship.

The authors of this piece rightly say that many nurses find spiritual care challenging to implement. Some of this relates to concerns over time and also confidence.

The 2010 RCN membership survey on spirituality (the college’s most recent) recorded similar findings, with 92.2% of respondents saying they only sometimes met their patients’ spiritual needs. Yet the same survey also found that nurses recognised the benefits of this care to patients, while having diverse views on the definition of spirituality and its individual interpretation.

Nervousness over getting spiritual care right

It’s not surprising that there is a nervousness around spiritual care, in part thanks to high-profile examples of the implications of having inappropriate conversations with patients about religion.

More education and reflection is needed on how spiritual care can benefit patients. It shouldn’t be left to the individual to ponder and then shy away from.

Our article is timed purposefully ahead of Christmas because faith and religion can be a great support during ill health for those with a practice or belief.

The sense of reflection that the year end can bring is also an opportunity for us all to ask the question at the heart of spiritual care: ‘What matters to you?’

Find out more

Spirituality in Nursing Care: A Pocket Guide (RCN)