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Keywords:

  • spiritual/religious methods;
  • coping;
  • stress;
  • illness;
  • meaning;
  • purpose;
  • self-transcendence;
  • connectedness;
  • hope;
  • nursing

Spiritual coping strategies: a review of the nursing research literature

Aims of the paper.  This paper reviews some of the limited nursing research-based literature, orientated towards the use of spiritual coping strategies in illness. This review aims at identifying those spiritual coping strategies used by the believers and nonbelievers followed by implications for holistic nursing care.

Literature search.  The CINAHL AND MEDLINE CD Rom databases were searched, identifying literature published from 1975 onwards which amounted to 187 articles. The majority of the literature traced were found anecdotal with only few studies investigating directly spiritual coping strategies. Following scrutiny of the available articles, only five research studies explored directly the spiritual coping strategies used in various illness, four of which were conducted in USA and one in UK. Because of the small scale research studies, generalization of the findings of this review is limited to the samples used.

Theoretical background.  Research suggests that spiritual coping strategies, involving relationship with self, others, Ultimate other/God or nature were found to help individuals to cope with their ailments. This may be because of finding meaning, purpose and hope, which may nurture individuals in their suffering. Spirituality is oftenly referred by literature as being synonymous with religiosity. Thus the use of spiritual coping strategies is restricted to individuals who hold religious beliefs. However, the definition of spirituality indicates that this concept is broader than religiosity. The theories on stress-coping (Folkman & Lazarus 1984) and the numinous experience (Otto 1950) outline the rationale for the use of these strategies which are applicable to both the believers and nonbelievers.

Implications.  This review suggests that the onset of illness may render the individual, being a believer or nonbeliever to realize the lack of control over his/her life. However the use of spiritual coping strategies may enhance self-empowerment, leading to finding meaning and purpose in illness. This implies that holistic care incorporates facilitation of various spiritual coping strategies to safeguard the wholeness and integrity of the patients.