Creative Interventions in Spiritual Care

An article in USA Today (March 18, 2009) references a study in the March 17, 2009 issue of JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) on the choices terminally ill patients make during their last few weeks of life.  The study showed patients who rely heavily on their religious faith were 3 times more likely to want intensive, invasive medical procedures like cpr when their hearts stop or being connected to a ventilator (breathing machine).  They also made fewer preparations for death, such as living wills, giving someone power of attorney, or filling out a “do not resuscitate” forms.

The lead author, Dr. Holly Prigerson of Harvard Medical School, theorizes that patients with strong religious faith may be “waiting for a miracle…” and are “more likely to think that life is sacred and that their job is to prove their faith to God by staying alive as long as possible, so miracles can be performed.” 

However, aggressive medical procedures may heighten physical pain and suffering in patients who are terminally ill.  Patients connected to a griefventilator are unable to verbally communicate and have meaningful conversations with their family and friends, which may cause more grief for family caregivers.  What this essentially translates to is invasive medical procedures in terminally ill patients may be associated with poor quality of death for the patient, and poor emotional adjustment for family caregivers who rely heavily on religious beliefs to cope.  However, the decisions made by patients and families to prolong life are individual and unique…there are no 2 situations alike, and therefore, must not be judged.

Another study of terminally ill patients with cancer and their partners show that the well-being of both patients and partners are interrelated.  Which implies that any unrelieved psychological symptoms of the patient increased the risk of long-term psychological morbidity of the surviving partners (Walsh S, Culpepper S, and Schmidt M. Testing the Efficacy of a Creative-Arts Intervention With Family Caregivers of Patients With Cancer. Journal of Nursing Scholarship, 2004; 36:3, 214-219). 


Health System Struggles with Spiritual Care 


In the same USA Today (March 18, 2009) article, it cites several studies of the lack of services in spiritual care for patients and families with cancer – this is very sad, indeed.  Below are the main points of the article.  To read the rest of the article, click here.

  • Nurses, doctors, and chaplains could do much more to ease the spiritual suffering for patients with terminal cancer
  • More than 70% of patients (N=230) felt their spiritual needs were not met by hospital chaplains, religious communities or others in the health care system (Balboni, T. MD, J of Clincial Oncology 2007)
  • Doctors and nurses are usually uneasy on what to say when it comes to talking about God because they fear that they might be imposing their religious beliefs
  • Lack of traning or skills of health professionals to help cope with spiritual questions
  • Not enough hospital chaplains…many hospital facing dwindling budgets have cut their chaplain service

 Use Creative Interventions in Spiritual Care



In light of these new findings, implement Creative Interventions as an additional activity and treatment  in Spiritual Care, but not replace religious leaders or mentors, nurses, doctors or hospital chaplains.  Here are the benefits of Creative Interventions as it relates to spirituality in patient care:

  • Low cost intervention
  • Promotes emotional bonding between patient, family and friends
  • Fulfills and complies with JACHO and Commission on Cancer Standards in Patient Care (see ‘Advocacy and Accrediting Bodies’ under TOPICS in left sidebar)
  • Based on holistic model and psychoneuroimmunology, i.e., body-mind-spirit-emotional systems are biochemically based and connected (see ‘Science Supporting Creativity in Healthcare’ under TOPICS in left sidebar, and read Candace Pert’s book ‘Molecules of Emotion’)
  • Reduces pain levels
  • Creativity and the arts tends to the spirit…the medical profession tends to the body
  • Provides periods of enjoyment, meditation and reflection
  • The creative process and the arts can be viewed as a non-traditional form of prayer
  • Engaging in the creative process heals the spirit, and therefore, aids in healing the body, mind and emotions (again, read Candace Pert’s book ‘Molecules of Emotion)

“Making art has been of great help to me in my cancer/life journey. It is always interesting to see new members come to the art class for the first time and proclaim they have no art talent. Nonverbal expression is just as valuable, and some times more so to those of us who don’t have the words to express our feelings in processing life.” (Written in email by Creativity Workshop participant to Marti Hand, RN, Artist, Advocate for creativity and the arts in healthcare)


Here’s a thought for you to absorb…

Medical treatment is fully effective only when the whole person is being treated – body, mind, spirit, emotion.

One response to “Creative Interventions in Spiritual Care

  1. good! it is useful

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