A thematic review of the spirituality literature within palliative care

J Palliat Med. 2006 Apr;9(2):464-79. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2006.9.464.


Research related to spirituality and health has developed from relative obscurity to a thriving field of study over the last 20 years both within palliative care and within health care in general. This paper provides a descriptive review of the literature related to spirituality and health, with a special focus on spirituality within palliative and end-of-life care. CINAHL and MEDLINE were searched under the keywords "spirituality" and "palliative." The review revealed five overarching themes in the general spirituality and health literature: (1) conceptual difficulties related to the term spirituality and proposed solutions; (2) the relationship between spirituality and religion; (3) the effects of spirituality on health; (4) the subjects enrolled in spirituality-related research; and (5) the provision of spiritual care. While the spirituality literature within palliative care shared these overarching characteristics of the broader spirituality and health literature, six specific thematic areas transpired: (1) general discussions of spirituality in palliative care; (2) the spiritual needs of palliative care patients; (3) the nature of hope in palliative care; (4) tools and therapies related to spirituality; (5) effects of religion in palliative care; and (6) spirituality and palliative care professionals. The literature as it relates to these themes is summarized in this review. Spirituality is emerging largely as a concept void of religion, an instrument to be utilized in improving or maintaining health and quality of life, and focussed predominantly on the "self" largely in the form of the patient. While representing an important beginning, the authors suggest that a more integral approach needs to be developed that elicits the experiential nature of spirituality that is shared by patients, family members, and health care professionals alike.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alberta
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care*
  • Spirituality*