Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Serious Medicine. Extraordinary Care.

Coping Through Spirituality and Prayer

Hope, a sense of purpose, inner peace, and strength--these are benefits people with cancer say they receive from prayer or having a spiritual belief. The World Health Organization includes spirituality in its definition of quality of life, a concept that describes one's health and well-being.

A topic once viewed as "Don't ask, don't tell," spirituality is now one of the fastest-growing areas in health research. Why the renewed interest in such an age-old practice? What do prayer and spirituality offer to people that modern medicine cannot achieve?

The revival of spirituality and prayer

The amount of research on spirituality and health has increased dramatically in the last decade. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health, includes prayer and spiritual healing under its new Frontier Medicine Initiative. Frontier Medicine is defined as complementary or alternative practices that have no biomedical explanation but are used widely by the public.

The role of the health care provider

Patients who value spirituality may expect their health care provider to address it. But religion and spirituality can be a sensitive and uncomfortable arena. How involved should health care providers be? And what can health care providers do if they are uncomfortable talking about it with their patients?

The following are questions that doctors, nurses, and other members of the health care team can ask to take a "spiritual history" from their patients. Follow the patients' lead--if they want to address spiritual issues, they will talk about it openly.

  • Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?

  • What gets you through the day? How are you coping with your illness?

  • What gives meaning to your life?

  • Do you participate in spiritual practices (e.g., meditate, attend places of worship, find comfort in talking to a priest, rabbi, or minister)?