spirituality and medicine:
curriculum development project


Spiritual interventions


The first spiritual intervention that a doctor may make is taking a spiritual history, as part of a routine clerking history. Several models for this exist, allowing the patient the opportunity to raise spiritual issues, and offering the doctor the chance to ask the patient how they would like spiritual issues to be addressed. Simply allowing the patient to open up about issues may itself be therapeutic.

The hospital chaplaincy service offers another opportunity to provide spiritual support to patients. They have time to spend with patients and skills in counselling ill people that may make them more effective than the doctor in finding out the main issues with which the patient is struggling. In many hospitals chaplains are now bared from doing ward rounds, and so rely on referrals from doctors or nurses in order to see patients.

Patients in hospital may feel spiritually stranded - away from their church or other religious community, or without access to scripture. Services at the hospital chapel may be helpful to them, as may the doctor or chaplain in arranging access to religious materials or visits from community clergy.

The above interventions can be viewed as 'basic' - things that all doctors should be routinely doing in order to support their patients as best as possible. There are also other, more advanced spiritual interventions, which raise ethical questions but which some would argue if offered appropriately to the patient can be of real benefit. Some GP practices offer prayer groups with members of local churches; others offer crisis pregnancy counselling run (within a strict ethical framework) by religious groups; others may refer alcoholics or drug addicts to faith-based rehabilitation centres. Such projects often offer very high standards of care, and if offered appropriately may be of help to people of any religious background.



The Spirituality and Medicine Curriculum Development Project is funded by the Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.