The understanding of spirituality and the potential role of spiritual care in end-of-life and palliative care: a meta-study of qualitative research

Palliat Med. 2010 Dec;24(8):753-70. doi: 10.1177/0269216310375860. Epub 2010 Jul 21.


Spirituality and spiritual care are gaining increasing attention but their potential contribution to palliative care remains unclear. The aim of this study was to synthesize qualitative literature on spirituality and spiritual care at the end of life using a systematic ('meta-study') review. Eleven patient articles and eight with healthcare providers were included, incorporating data from 178 patients and 116 healthcare providers, mainly from elderly White and Judaeo-Christian origin patients with cancer. Spirituality principally focused on relationships, rather than just meaning making, and was given as a relationship. Spirituality was a broader term that may or may not encompass religion. A 'spirit to spirit' framework for spiritual care-giving respects individual personhood. This was achieved in the way physical care was given, by focusing on presence, journeying together, listening, connecting, creating openings, and engaging in reciprocal sharing. Affirmative relationships supported patients, enabling them to respond to their spiritual needs. The engagement of family caregivers in spiritual care appears underutilized. Relationships formed an integral part of spirituality as they were a spiritual need, caused spiritual distress when broken and were the way spiritual care was given. Barriers to spiritual care include lack of time, personal, cultural or institutional factors, and professional educational needs. By addressing these, we may make an important contribution to the improvement of patient care towards the end of life.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care / methods*
  • Pastoral Care / methods
  • Spiritual Therapies / methods*
  • Spirituality*
  • Terminal Care / methods*