Motivations driving spiritual engagement based on a phenomenological study of spirituality amongst palliative care clients and caregivers

Joy Penman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Objective: The attention given to spirituality has dramatically increased, especially in contemporary western society, because of its significant link to good health and well-being. Spirituality has relevance for individuals with life-limiting conditions. It is heightened when individuals encounter this predicament. The purpose of this research was to determine the essence of the lived experience of spirituality and spiritual engagement from the perspective of palliative care clients and caregivers. One of the objectives was to understand the reasons why they engage in spiritual matters and this is the focus of the paper.
Methods: A qualitative approach, based on van Manen’s theoretical framework of hermeneutic phenomenology, was chosen for this research. This approach enabled human experience to be studied as it was lived and examined to the fullest breadth, depth and extent through a dynamic interplay of several research activities. In-depth interviews of four (4) palliative care clients and ten (10) caregivers from regional and rural Australia provided rich experiential discourse of what motivated them to engage in spiritual matters.
Results: The driving force that motivated the study participants to engage in spirituality was the benefits they might derive in the process of spiritual engagement. The motivations for spiritual engagement could be categorised as intrinsic and/or extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation, defined as the innate propensity to engage one’s interest in spirituality and satisfy spiritual needs, included “to have peace and acceptance”, “to seek healing”, “to be able to cope”, and “to find positive meaning in illness and suffering”. Extrinsic motivation, which comes from external influences and events that constitute the incentives and consequences to pursue spirituality, included “to communicate love and concern”, “to better care for the loved one”, “to build intimate relationships”, and “to provide comfort to others”. Once the drive or motivation arose, behavior was
energised to engage in spiritual matters, reaping both self-serving and altruistic benefits.
Conclusions: Spirituality provided many real and potential benefits for those who engaged in it. Simply put, it helped participants cope. It becomes imperative for nurses and other health professionals to pay attention to these phenomena.
The implications of this study relate to clinical practice and the educational preparation of nurses and other health professionals involved in caring for people with life-limiting conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)135-147
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Nursing Education and Practice
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Spirituality
  • Spiritual engagement
  • Palliative care clients and caregivers

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