Re-examining definitions of spirituality in nursing research

J Adv Nurs. 2013 Dec;69(12):2622-34. doi: 10.1111/jan.12152. Epub 2013 Apr 18.


Aim: To discuss the definition of spirituality and its limitations for nursing research. It proposes a definition that will capture more accurately the role of spirituality in health outcomes.

Background: Studies have increasingly examined spirituality in nursing research as a coping mechanism attenuating the negative impact of traumatic stress on mental health. Existing definitions of spirituality in nursing research include elements of positive emotional states (meaning, purpose, general well-being) which confound mental health outcomes.

Data sources: Medline and CINAHL databases were searched from 2007-2011 for research articles examining spirituality definitions and measures used by nurse researchers.

Discussion: An analysis of the definitions of spirituality in nursing research reveals inconsistencies and confounding mental health concepts. The authors propose defining spirituality in the context of religious involvement when conducting research, while using a broader definition of spirituality when providing spiritual care. They argue such definition provides a more appropriate method of measuring this concept in research aimed at evaluating mental health outcomes while preserving the currently used patient-defined definition of spirituality when providing spiritual care.

Nursing implications: A consistent definition of spirituality in nursing research evaluating mental health outcomes, distinct from 'spiritual care' in a clinical setting, is essential to avoid tautological results that are meaningless. Appropriate definitions will enable nursing researchers to more clearly identify resilience mechanisms and improved health outcomes in those exposed to traumatic stress.

Conclusion: A definition of spirituality that focuses on religious involvement provides a more uniform and consistent measure for evaluating mental health outcomes in nursing research.

Keywords: holistic care; mental health; nursing; psychology; research methods; spiritual care; spirituality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Humans
  • Nursing Research*
  • Nursing Staff / psychology
  • Spirituality*