Talking about spirituality in the clinical setting: can being professional require being personal?

Am J Bioeth. 2007 Jul;7(7):4-11. doi: 10.1080/15265160701399545.


Spirituality or religion often presents as a foreign element to the clinical environment, and its language and reasoning can be a source of conflict there. As a result, the use of spirituality or religion by patients and families seems to be a solicitation that is destined to be unanswered and seems to open a distance between those who speak this language and those who do not. I argue that there are two promising approaches for engaging such language and helping patients and their families to productively engage in the decision-making process. First, patient-centered interviewing techniques can be employed to explore the patient's religious or spiritual beliefs and successfully translate them into choices. Second, and more radically, I suggest that in some more recalcitrant conflicts regarding treatment plans, resolution may require that clinicians become more involved, personally engaging in discussion and disclosure of religious and spiritual worldviews. I believe that both these approaches are supported by rich models of informed consent such as the transparency model and identify considerations and circumstances that can justify such personal disclosures. I conclude by offering some considerations for curbing potential unprofessional excesses or abuses in discussing spirituality and religion with patients.

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making / ethics*
  • Ethics Consultation
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / ethics*
  • Patient-Centered Care
  • Physician-Patient Relations / ethics*
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Religion and Medicine*
  • Spirituality*