Iris Mini: How to Talk to Your Health Care Team About Your Spiritual Needs

In a recent study, individuals coping with cancer reported that spirituality is a source of strength that helps them cope with their cancer experiences; define wellness during treatment and survivorship; find meaning in their lives; find a sense of health; and make sense of their cancer experiences during illness.

Religion is often categorized as a specific set of beliefs, usually as part of an organized group. Spirituality is broader and may include a person’s beliefs and values related to what brings meaning to their life and feeling connected to a community.

You may see yourself as spiritual, religious, or both. We each nurture spiritual beliefs in different ways – from participating in religious traditions to finding meaning in nature or in art.

Why to Discuss Spirituality with Your Healthcare Team

Many people find it important that their healthcare team understand their religious and/or spiritual beliefs. These beliefs can be a source of strength throughout treatment, and discussing them with your healthcare team is an opportunity for them to better understand you.

Going through cancer treatment is often a busy and overwhelming experience. Taking the time to reflect on the values and beliefs that are most important to you during your care and what you would like your healthcare team to know can be a vital part of your medical journey.

What to Discuss with Your Healthcare Team

Your healthcare providers may ask you questions about your religious practices and/or spiritual beliefs. However, in many cases, they may be waiting for you to initiate the discussion.

Here are some values and concerns to consider when discussing your spiritual needs with your healthcare team:

  • Your religious or spiritual practices, including rituals, prayer and/or meditation, and community

  • Things that bring meaning and value

  • Sources of your spiritual strength

  • How spiritual coping is supporting you during your cancer treatment

  • If you are experiencing a loss or questioning of faith due to your cancer

  • If there are conflicts between your illness, treatment, and your beliefs

  • Concerns about end of life, medical choices, and afterlife

  • How your healthcare team can support your spiritual needs

What to Expect from Your Healthcare Team While your healthcare team may not participate in your religious or spiritual practices, they can respect your system of beliefs and how they influence your decisions in your cancer care.

How Your Healthcare Team Can Support You

  • Discuss how the treatment plan and your goals align with your spiritual and/or religious beliefs

  • Encourage you to connect with your religious or spiritual community

  • Refer you to a hospital or clinic chaplain

  • Connect you to a mental health professional who specializes in oncology

  • Honor your choice to not discuss spirituality in the healthcare setting


*Lee, Yi-Hui. Spiritual Care for Cancer Patients. Asia-Pacific Journal of Oncology Nursing. 2019 Apr-Jun;6(2):101-103. doi: 10.4103/apjon.apjon_65_18. PMID: 30931352