spirituality and medicine:
curriculum development project


What is spirituality?


Providing spiritual care for patients is nothing new - it has always formed the basis of good medical practice. Seeing patients as whole people includes enquiring about what makes them tick.

Spirituality: Spirituality plays a part in everyone's life. It is a persons search for meaning and truth - for a world view that integrates all of life's experiences. Spirituality ranges from the highly subjective and personal - such as feelings of guilt or hope associated with spiritual beliefs - through to the more objective and abstract - such as patients' responses to existential questions such as 'who is God?', or 'what is the meaning of life?'. Spirituality encompasses religion, which may provide the background to such psychological states and also provide a body of belief which can provide answers to existential questions.

For some, organised religion provides answers to these issues of spiritual identity. So they may looks for answers in the Bible or in the Qu'ran when faced with questions of meaning, worth and purpose. Others may take a more individualistic approach, piecing together what they believe from a range of different belief systems. Still others may reject any notion of the supernatural, and seek to answer life's big questions entirely by looking to science, to experience and to what is self-evident from things around them.

Illness brings spiritual issues to the fore. People may suddenly be faced with their own mortality. They may be left disabled, or chronically ill - unable to fulfill their dreams, or forced to face a life completely different from the one they had planned. Such patients may face a spiritual crisis and be left questioning all their previous suppositions, unsure of the very basis of the life they had previously led.

Other patients may find their spiritual beliefs a source of great strength in times of crisis. They may be supported by friends in a church. They may look to their scriptures for encouragement, or find a great sense of peace through prayer. Such sources of spiritual strength can be drawn on by healthcare workers to enable patients to find the most elusive of medical outcomes - healing - even in the face of untreatable disease.

  Spiritual care: This involves doctors and other members of the healthcare team actively searching for spiritual issues in their patients - either spiritual distress or sources of spiritual strength. Doctors can allow patients the chance to talk openly about spiritual things, and can try to help patients through their distress along with other members of the multi-disciplinary team.  


» What spiritual interventions exist?

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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.