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New research in spiritual care

Author: Dr Lucy Selman, Research Fellow, University of Bristol
19 October 2017
  • Word cloud created from all quotes from the study paper.
  • Fig. 1: Patients’ spiritual concerns

A group of international researchers has spoken to patients with incurable, progressive disease and family caregivers across nine countries about spiritual care.

Patients’ and caregivers’ spiritual concerns, experiences of receiving spiritual care, preferences in relation to spiritual care, and priorities for research are described in a paper published last week in Palliative Medicine. The results highlight the need for spiritual care, which is often neglected in clinical practice, and provide evidence to inform staff education and future research. 

One of the first international studies in spiritual care, this research was conducted in South Africa (Cape Town), Kenya (Nairobi), South Korea (Seoul), the United States (San Francisco, New York, Washington), Canada (Calgary), the United Kingdom (London), Belgium (Leuven), Finland (Tampere) and Poland (Poznan). In total, 74 patients and 71 caregivers took part in focus groups for the study.

Participants described a wide range of ‘deeper’ concerns that were remarkably similar between countries. While some concerns were overtly religious in nature, many were existential, psychological and social or relational (scroll image above for Figure 1).  

Participants reported a wide-spread neglect of spiritual care needs in practice: spiritual care was needed and felt to be important, but was frequently not addressed by healthcare providers. The neglect of spiritual care was thought to be a matter of prioritisation and staff attitude as much as lack of time.

While spiritual care specialists (e.g. chaplains) were considered to play important roles, including staff support, participants wanted all interdisciplinary team members to be able to address spiritual issues. There is therefore a clear need for education in initiating conversations about spirituality and assessing spiritual care needs across professional roles.

A previous international survey identified priority areas for research in spiritual care among clinicians and researchers. This research adds the patient and caregiver perspective, highlighting research priorities including: educating staff to provide spiritual care and communicate sensitively, making spiritual care suitable for diverse populations, and considering caregivers’ spiritual care needs. 

Dr Lucy Selman, principal investigator, is a Research Fellow at the University of Bristol. She will be speaking about this study and her previous research in spiritual care at the HealthCare Chaplaincy Network conference in New Orleans, 23-25 April 2018.

Twitter: @Lucy_Selman


Selman L, Brighton L, Sinclair S, Karvinen I, Egan R, Speck P, Powell RA, Deskur-Smielecka E, Glajchen M, Adler SR, Puchalski C, Hunter J, Gikaara N, Hope J, the InSpirit collaborative. Patients’ and caregivers’ needs, experiences, preferences and research priorities in spiritual care: A focus group study across nine countries. Palliative Medicine, 12 October 2017

See more articles in Research

Comments | 2 comments


Anonymous frances tsikai

I agree that some of the spiritual needs of patients and their families are not met as people confuse religion with spirituality. Though Chaplains have an important role to play there are some aspects of individuals' spirituality needs that are not met.

24/10/2017 08:45:57

Kazi Mansoor

It is very important finding. It is sad that many of these people could be benefited from spiritual care.

23/10/2017 23:26:58

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