How Do I Care for the Spiritual But Not Religious Person?

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“I'm a spiritual person, but I'm not religious.” How often have you heard this? The emergence of spiritual but not religious (SBNR) as a self-identifier is found throughout culture. Regular surveys by the Pew Research Center (2015) have revealed this category as a growing segment of the U.S. population.
The discipline of nursing may have contributed to the idea of SBNR because of the focus to separate spirituality from religiosity. For example, the “Art and Science of Spiritual Care” curriculum, offered by Nurses Christian Fellowship International, defines the terms as:
Religion and spirituality are understood as two separate but overlapping concepts: Spirituality (a nearly universal trait by which persons seek hope and meaning in their lives) is present in all persons, and religion (teaching and rituals of faith traditions) may or may not be a part of a person. (Rex Smith, Dameron, & Giske, 2016, p. 12)
Many nurse theorists view humans as biopsychosocial spiritual beings. In this view, those with no faith still have spirituality and spiritual needs. Other disciplines, such as medicine and psychology, tend not to separate the two but treat as one construct, calling the area religion/spirituality (R/S). This is not acceptable in nursing—you will hear the differentiation lectured as if it were the only view.
Many Christian nurses are in a different category. We are highly spiritual, seeking deep lives of vibrant faith within the context of our religion, we hold to the tenets of the Christian faith. We are highly spiritual and highly religious—we can't uncouple the two! These tenets are deeply intertwined; one cannot exist without the other. We may find it hard to understand that someone could claim to be spiritual without holding to a faith, especially the Christian faith.
So, how do we care for the SBNR patient? Inherent in the question, is the idea that there is some difference between the SBNR and our highly spiritual and highly religious position that makes a difference in how we care for our patients. As with all patients, SBNR are not a uniform group. For some, “SBNR” is the beginning and the end—their spirituality does not go beyond the initial statement and they may know little about faith traditions. Others may have culled together ideas from multiple traditions into a unique worldview. Still others are seekers, open.
What are a few targeted suggestions for providing spiritual care to the SBNR patient?
Spiritual care is for everyone. SBNR patients need spiritual attention and like all patients, our Christian concern.
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