Spiritual Distress: Unheard Words Of Hope

The terms ‘spiritual’ and ‘spirituality’ are part of the common social vocabulary in the 21st century. As Prisma Health’ss Center for Integrative Oncology and Survivorship (CIOS) begins to integrate spiritual care into its cancer survivorship programs, it behooves us to pause and think about a working definition of what this care might mean. My own definition, fitting for a healthcare setting, is adapted from one offered by a National Consensus Project convened by the George Washington Institute for Spirituality & Health in 2009.

  • Spirituality is the aspect of humanity that refers to the way one seeks and expresses meaning or purpose and the way one experiences connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature and to God/the sacred. (*Puchalaski, Ferrell, Virani, et al, 2009)
  • Spirituality may refer to specifically religious matters, most often associated with a church or other religious organization.
  • Spirituality also may refer to a specifically existential path by which one makes meaning, finds purpose, and experiences connectedness and cohesiveness in one’s life.

Spiritual care is grounded in two fundamentally important frameworks: the biopsychosocial-spiritual model of care and the patient-centered care model. Spiritual care is based on dignity and respect for individuals.

The process of integrating a cancer diagnosis with one’s existing spiritual base may cause spiritual growth or spiritual distress for cancer survivors. Spiritual growth is transformative; it is spiritually strengthening, which helps survivors cope with their diagnosis, find hope in the midst of suffering, find joy in life and maintain the ability to be grateful. Spiritual distress, however, is less obvious. Spiritual distress is defined as an impaired ability to experience and integrate meaning and purpose in life. (**Puchulaski, Ferrell, 2010)

Related diagnoses may include:

  • Inability to practice religious rituals or discontinuation of religious practice
  • Conflict between religious/spiritual beliefs and prescribed health regimen
  • Loss of faith, anger at God, guilt over ‘sins,’ hopelessness

Additionally, spiritual distress may cause depression (even suicidality), anxiety or guilt that leads to chronic physical pain.

If you recognize these signs in yourself or in those for whom you provide care, words of hope need to be heard. Consult a spiritual care professional!

For more information on spiritual care individual and group sessions with Chaplain Judy Stevens, please call (864) 455-4399.

Rev. Judy Stevens, PhD, MDiv, is chaplain resident with the Center for Integrative Oncology and Survivorship. 

References cited

*Puchalski, , C.M., Ferrell, B., Virani, R., et al. (2009)  Improving the quality of spiritual care as a dimension of palliative care:  The Report of the Consensus Conference. J Palliat Med 12 (10): 885-904

**Puchalski, C.M., Ferrell, B (2010)  Making Health Care Whole:  Integrating Spirituality Into Patient Care p 125ff  West Conshohocken:  Templeton Press.

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