Common questions and worries
What is meant by 'spiritual support'?
There are many misconceptions about what ‘spiritual’ and ‘spiritual support’ mean. Here are some of them:
Spirituality is a private thing. It’s wrong or inappropriate to ask people what their spiritual needs are (this might be the case for some people, but not everyone)
‘Spiritual’ is just another word for religion. I’m not religious so this won’t apply to me/ I don’t know anything about religion so I’m not qualified to help.
Spiritual support is the same as emotional support, and I can get that from my family or friends (this might be the case for some people, but not everyone)
As long as I’m physically looked after and not in pain the rest will work itself out.
People are multi-faceted and have very many different needs and worries. These might be described as being social, emotional, psychological, relational, physical and spiritual. These are often interrelated and hard to separate.
Questions and worries
Sometimes when people are faced with illness they find themselves confronted with questions such as:
‘What did I do to deserve this?’
‘What purpose does life have now I am ill?’
‘What have I achieved in my life?’
'What will become of me?'
‘What will live on after I die?’
Spiritual support can be understood as helping people to explore these kinds of questions.
These questions might relate to meaning, hope, identity, acceptance, loss, forgiveness or reconciliation. They might involve difficult emotions; people who are seriously ill can feel guilt, shame, fear, sadness, worry or anger, a combination of these emotions and many more.
Often spiritual worries do not present themselves in clear and philosophical terms. There might just be a feeling of overwhelming pain, which sometimes manifests in physical form, leading to what is termed ‘total pain’.
These feelings can be difficult to deal with alone. Left unmet, spiritual needs can have a negative impact on one’s wellbeing and quality of life, and affect other dimensions of life, such as relationships with friends and family.
Who to talk to?
If we have questions about our physical health, we naturally turn to our doctor or nurse. But who do we turn to with our philosophical, relational or spiritual questions? Some people have existing relationships with a chaplain, spiritual leader, counsellor, member of the community or another individual they feel comfortable to call upon for help. But what happens when this isn’t the case or when their needs cannot be met by a pre-existing contact?
The tips on the next page are designed for professionals, friends, family, volunteers or anyone else finding themselves in the position of wanting or needing to help someone with philosophical, relational or spiritual questions. The tips are not intended to provide all the answers, but to help you clarify in your own mind some of the concepts involved, and provide a basic level of spiritual support.