Spiritual Care in General Practice: Rushing in or fearing to tread? An Integrative Review of Qualitative Literature

Alistair Appleby, Philip Wilson, John Swinton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
21 Downloads (Pure)


Guidance for medical staff reminds employees of the responsibility to deliver spiritual care in its broadest sense, respecting the dignity, humanity, individuality and diversity of the people whose cultures, faiths and beliefs coexist in society. This is no small or simple task, and although GPs (family practitioners) have been encouraged to deliver spiritual care, we suggest this is proving to be challenging and needs further careful debate. This literature review critiques and analyses existing studies and points to four categories of attitude to spiritual care, and two related but distinct concepts of spirituality in use by GPs. Our aims were to search for, summarise and critique the qualitative literature regarding general practitioners’ views on spirituality and their role in relation to spiritual care. An integrative review was made by a multidisciplinary team using a critical realism framework. We searched seven databases and completed thematic and matrix analyses of the qualitative literature. A number of good-quality studies exist and show that some but not all GPs are willing to offer spiritual care. Four patterns of attitude towards delivering spiritual care emerge from the studies which indicate different levels of engagement with spiritual care: embracing, pragmatic, guarded and rejecting. Further research is needed to identify whether these four views are fixed or fluid, whether training in spiritual care modifies these and whether they relate to patterns of care in practice, or patient outcomes. The authors suggest that some of the difference in viewpoint relate to the lack of clear philosophical framework. The authors suggest critical realism as having potential to facilitate interdisciplinary research and create clearer concepts of spiritual care for GPs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1108-1124
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Religion and Health
Issue number3
Early online date23 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018

Bibliographical note

Acknowledgements Thanks to Jenny Jones, Stirling University, Rod Sampson and Melanie Bickerton, and Nicola Ring, University of Stirling.
Funding A bursary from the University of Aberdeen was awarded. Ethical approval is not required.
Open access via Springer Compact


  • general practice
  • primary health care
  • spirituality
  • religion


Dive into the research topics of 'Spiritual Care in General Practice: Rushing in or fearing to tread? An Integrative Review of Qualitative Literature'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this