Eleanor’s blog – June 2014

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CARE_blue-signIn this month’s blog I would like to raise the subject that is often overlooked when caring for and supporting people. Although it appears as a question on every admission and assessment form, the space for the response is all too often left blank or has minimal information that really doesn’t tell you very much at all.

What area of a person’s life and identity am I referring to? No, not religion, although it may be included, but rather, ‘spirituality’. In its widest sense spirituality is considered to be something that gives meaning to the person’s life and from which they draw strength and comfort in times of difficulty and/or need. Understandable then that religion is one expression of spirituality. Other expressions of spirituality might be meditation, prayer, relationships with others, with God or a higher power. For many people however it is their family or nature (e.g. the seasons, the beauty of plants, flowers and the landscapes; the natural world etc) that help them cope with times of need or distress.

Perhaps we shy away from asking about someone’s spirituality because we are uncertain of how we ourselves feel about it or we are uncertain of how to ask and respond to the person’s answers. Perhaps the problem lies with the fact that on many admission and assessment forms the question only appears to relate to religion and not spirituality, thereby overlooking the wider aspect of what it means to be human.

Even when someone expresses their spirituality in terms of religious belief it is important to not just write this in the space provided and assume you therefore know and understand what that means to them and its importance in their life.

How a person practices their religion is individual. To really understand the person’s spirituality we need to enter into a conversation with them to find out what their religion means to them on a day-to-day basis; which rituals, customs and practices are important and how you can best support them to maintain this aspect of their identity and mental wellbeing. The same is just as true when considering a persons’ spirituality.

So the next time you need to ask someone about their spirituality, think about it in terms of having a conversation where you give the person cues to encourage them to express themselves so that you can begin to understand them better. Doing this will enable you to better support them in maintaining their identity, sense of self-worth and wellbeing.

Here are some ideas to get the conversation about spirituality started:
If you want to know about the person’s spirituality then try asking –
‘What do you draw strength from during difficult times?’ or ‘What gives your life meaning and purpose?’
To find out how important these are to the person’s life then you could continue the conversation by asking:
‘How important is this in your daily life?’ or ‘How much does it influence your daily life?’
You will find it useful to ask if there are other people in the person’s life who support them to maintain their spirituality. They are often part of the person’s social and support network. You may be able to call upon this network to ensure the person receiving health or social care support doesn’t become socially isolated as well as maintaining their interests and activities.

Finally you could ask the person what you can do to support them to maintain their spirituality. This could be, for example, contacting someone from the person’s faith community or if nature is the key to their spirituality then it may be regular outings in the fresh air to places where they can enjoy nature.
Caring for and supporting people is not just about meeting their physical needs it is also about seeing them as a whole person and meeting their emotional, psychological and spiritual needs as well. Health and Social Care workers find that understanding the person’s values, beliefs and the things that have influenced their identity helps them to provide more personalised care and support. It also encourages trust and helps to build the supporting relationship with people.

So why not look again at your organisations documentation around admissions and assessment and find out if the people who use your services are asked about their spirituality. If not then talk to your manager about including this so that you can enhance the quality of care provided.
Until next time …..

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