A patient must feel free to say “no” without feeling that a refusal will jeopardize their care or our doctor-patient relationship.

My “spiritual history” consists of two questions:

1. Were you raised with a faith or religion?

2. Are you practicing a faith now?

Praying with patients: signs to look for

Listening to their words, tone and observing their facial expressions allows me to estimate their spiritual journey and I may ask further questions if I am unsure.

Because many people have been hurt by organized systems of religion, some people are very sensitive and will quickly feel judged. Regardless of what someone does or does not believe, I always smile and actively listen and encourage them on their journey. There is never any judgment on my part for anything about a patient; there is only warm acceptance and the desire to help. From my body language, people should feel that they are accepted and safe whether or not they desire prayer.

If surgery is not necessary but I feel that someone would be receptive to prayer, then I offer. The way the spiritual questions are answered is a good indication of whether or not people are open to receiving prayer. If in my judgment prayer will not be well received, I don’t offer.

Praying with patients: other useful questions

Other questions that are useful in taking a spiritual history include:

1. What are your sources of spiritual support?

2. Is prayer something you use for spiritual support?

3. “Are you at peace?” promotes discussion of spiritual health, especially near end-of-life. (Steinhauser KE, et al ?Are You at Peace?? Arch. Intern. Med. 2006;166:101-105).

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