Spirituality and Religion: An Important Reality for Occupational Therapy

Spirituality and Religion: An Important Reality for Occupational Therapy. GettyImages

Most US adults are religious and/or believe in God

Approximately 77 percent of US adults are affiliated with a religion and 60 to 80 percent of Americans believe in God, yet our healthcare system does not often create space to understand the influence of religion or spirituality in the health and wellbeing of patients. For purposes of this article, I define spirituality as the experience of meaning in everyday life activities.

Occupational Therapy, described as a holistic field of medicine, still has some room to grow in recognizing and accounting for the role of spirituality or religion in a patient’s healing process. But, progress is being made. Holistic approaches to OT are gaining movement within multiple OT settings. 

While some therapists may be uncomfortable with this concept in practice, it’s in the best interest of the patient’s health to account for this facet of life that exists within the majority of the world. In fact, spirituality is included in the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework, implying the inclusion of a spirituality component of client-centered practice.

A Consideration for OT’s

Occupational Therapists who have integrated spirituality into their practice often state four themes of consideration:

  1. addressing any religious concerns with the patient,
  2. addressing suffering, loss, or pain,
  3. encouraging the self or building up confidence,
  1. gaining insight as a therapist.

What an incredible opportunity to reflect on and participate in the improvement of all aspects of the self: physically, mentally, and spiritually. The article Spiritual Assessments in Occupational Therapy provides some great spiritual assessment tools for OT practice. These assessments include: 

Patients who consider themselves spiritual or religious and are continuing or entering into Occupational Therapy might also assess how their own religion or spirituality might affect the therapeutic process.

A Consideration for Patients

First, are your religious practices hindered as a result of pain or injury? What do you consider a priority, in terms of a therapy timeline, to gain the ability to participate in a religious or spiritual practice, i.e. meditation, yoga, or prayer? Second, what is the purpose of this pain and suffering? If an individual who has experienced trauma or suffering feels conflicted about their pain, how can the therapeutic process be successful, other than perhaps, through improvements in physical ability? Finally, how will your spirituality or religion help you in the therapeutic process? Is there anything the OT should know that could dramatically improve your OT session?

Please, feel that these considerations are important and valid in discussing your care with your occupational therapist. This conversation may take place in the evaluation process or can occur throughout the treatment process. 

A Significant Reality

While some may cringe at the idea of entering into this territory, it is a reality of life that most people in the world engage in some form of religion or spirituality and that this component does affect their health. Multiple studies have identified significant links between religion or spirituality and health. While researchers are still unclear about what specifically causes this link, Occupational Therapists, Patients, and the entire healthcare system must account for this reality. Patients and therapists who, in the very least, engage in reflection and intentionality in their therapy process will surely benefit from such an approach. 

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