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Keywords:

  • illness;
  • literature review;
  • meaning;
  • measurement;
  • nursing

Abstract

Title. A review of instruments measuring two aspects of meaning: search for meaning and meaning in illness.

Aim.  This paper is a report of narrative review of psychosocial instruments measuring two aspects of meaning: the search for meaning and meaning in illness.

Background.  Studies have shown that meaning has significance for well-being, particularly for those experiencing illness/negative events. Understanding a person’s ascription of meaning to a stressful event can facilitate planning of supportive nursing interventions.

Method.  A literature search was conducted using Medline, PsycInfo, PsycArticles, CINAHL, ProQuest, Ebsco and MasterFile Premier for the period 1956–2006. The search terms were: meaning instruments, search for meaning, meaning in illness, significance of meaning and positive meaning. Only studies that employed measurement of one of these two aspects of meaning were included.

Findings.  Twelve instruments were retrieved from the search. Five were measures of search for meaning and seven were measures of meaning in illness. With a few exceptions these instruments were conceptually and operationally congruent and had acceptable psychometric properties. Limiting factors were the infrequent use of some of the instruments clinically or in research, and lack of evidence that cultural or age-specific factors had been considered in the development of the instruments.

Conclusion.  Progress with research into meaning and clinical use of meaning instruments may be augmented by refinement of instruments in the areas of conceptual clarity, operational congruence, psychometric properties and cultural and age-specific considerations. Good quantitative assessment will facilitate analysis of the relationship between ascriptions of meaning and psychosocial functioning, and lead to improved nursing interventions.