In the U.S., the majority of patients consider their religious beliefs and spiritual values very important in helping them cope with cancer. Importantly, studies report that patients feel that the quality of care they receive from their physicians is significantly enhanced when spirituality and religion are addressed. Research indicates that when physicians support the spiritual well-being of their patients, there are measurable improvements in their quality of life.
As defined by the U.S. National Cancer Institute: “The terms spirituality and religion are often used in place of each other, but for many people they have different meanings. Religion may be defined as a specific set of beliefs and practices, usually within an organized group. Spirituality may be defined as an individual’s sense of peace, purpose, and connection to others, and beliefs about the meaning of life.“
Asking patients about their religious or spiritual coping often opens the door to further discussion about this topic, and is typically perceived as a validation of the importance of this experience. Studies report that inquiring about spirituality and religion in this context is well-received and rarely considered intrusive or distressing to patients. Increasingly, medical schools are incorporating interviewing skills into the curriculum that address spiritual well-being.
There are numerous semi-structured interviewing tools that are available to healthcare providers that help them explore a patients’ religious beliefs and spiritual experiences or issues and identify possible areas of concern. Additional resources can then be offered to their patients such as a referral to a chaplain or support group.