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First multi-site study on spirituality in advanced illness

Results from three multi-site studies by Cabrini Health indicate that although many patients with advanced illness and their caregivers did not resonate with the term ‘‘spiritual care’’, all described how the hospital’s ‘hospitality’ could affirm their values and strengthen coping.

About the multi-site study

Patients and their carers described experiencing the virtue of hospitality which affirmed values and strengthened resilience. Hospitality was exemplified through kindness, concern for another’s comfort rather than pure acts of duty, and staff going beyond what is generally expected, thereby communicating ‘something of oneself’, and striving to be available to all needing care.

The studies carried out by the Palliative and Supportive Care Department at Cabrini Health in collaboration with Hammond Care and St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney aimed to examine spirituality, religiosity and support received by Australian patients with advanced illness and their caregivers.

Participants (261 patients and 109 caregivers) completed anonymous questionnaires, including the Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness Therapy – Spiritual Well-Being Scale and were also interviewed.

Other findings

  • Close to two-thirds of patients and caregivers considered spirituality or religion very or somewhat important in their lives.
  • Both groups prayed and meditated more following a diagnosis, with patients seeking more time, strength and acceptance and caregivers gaining comfort and guidance.
  • Spiritual or religious support from external faith communities proved beneficial, with pastoral care visits comforting the majority, but eliciting discomfort in some.
  • Positive organisational and environmental tones supported spiritual wellbeing. Staff attentiveness, when divested from self-preoccupation to demonstrate a genuine interest in the other was appreciated.

The studies demonstrate the need for respectful inquiry into patients’ spiritual/religious requirements in hospital to allow for an attuned approach to addressing such care needs whilst considerately accommodating those disinterested in such support.

Research funding and publications

The Cabrini Health spirituality studies were funded by the Cabrini Foundation Sambor Family Clinical Research Grant, St.Vincent’s Curran Foundation Grant and the University of Notre Dame Australia SoMS Research Support Grant.

All three researches were published in leading peer reviewed palliative care journals. Details given below. PDF copies are available on request to

Cabrini Health spirituality research titles

O’Callaghan C C. Georgousopoulou E, Seah D et al. Spirituality and religiosity in a palliative medicine population: mixed-methods study. BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care 2020;0:1–8. doi:10.1136/bmjspcare-2020-002261

O’Callaghan C C, Seah D, Clayton JM, et al. Palliative Caregivers’ Spirituality, Views About Spiritual Care, and Associations With Spiritual Well-Being: A Mixed Methods Study American Journal of Hospice & Palliative Medicine 2019. 1-9 DOI: 10.1177/1049909119877351

O’Callaghan CC, Brooker J, Glenister D, et al. Patients’ and Caregivers’ Contested Perspectives on Spiritual Care for Those Affected by Advanced Illnesses: A Qualitative Descriptive Study. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 2019.






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