Mental health nurses’ understandings and experiences of providing care for the spiritual needs of service users: a qualitative study

Ruth Elliott, John Wattis, Kathleen Chirema, Joanna Brooks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


What is known on the subject?: Addressing spiritual issues to maintain a sense of hope, meaning and purpose can be an important aspect of mental health care which goes beyond simply providing facilities for religious observance. Expressions of spiritual need from service users can potentially be confused with symptoms of mental ill health. Little is known about how mental health nurses understand or provide this aspect of care for service users. What the paper adds to existing knowledge?: An understanding from the mental health nurse perspective of how mental health nurses understand and care for service users’ spiritual needs, and what influences their practice in this area. Ideas about how education and opportunities for good practice in this area might be advanced. What are the implications for practice?: Nurses need more education and guidance as well as supportive team and management cultures so that they feel comfortable and able to deliver this important aspect of care. Abstract Introduction Mental health nurses have a professional obligation to attend to service users’ spiritual needs, but little is known about specific issues related to provision of care for spiritual need faced by mental health nurses or how nurses understand this aspect of care and deliver it in practice. Aim/Question To explore mental health nurses’ ́understandings of spiritual need and their experiences of delivering this care for service users. Method A qualitative study was conducted in one NHS mental health service. Interviews were undertaken with seventeen mental health nurses practising in a variety of areas. Results Four themes were generated from thematic analysis of data in the template style: Expressing personal perspectives on spirituality; Expressing perspectives on spirituality as a nursing professional; Nursing spiritually; and Permeating anxiety (integrative). Discussion Participants had complex understandings of spiritual need and evident anxieties in relation to this area of care. Two different approaches to nursing spiritually are characterised as (a) pragmatic (concerned with procedural aspects of care) and (b) spiritually empathetic. Mental health nurses were uncertain about the acceptability of attention to spiritual issues as part of care and anxious about distinguishing between symptoms of mental ill health and spiritual needs. Implications for practice Educational experiences need to emphasise both pragmatic and empathetic approaches, and work needs to be organised to support good practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)162-171
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing
Issue number2
Early online date8 Sep 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


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