Health and Social Care Chaplaincy, Vol 3, No 2 (2015)




Janice Clarke, Spiritual Care in Everyday Nursing Practice – a New Approach. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013, 224 pp. (Pbk). ISBN: 978-0-2303-4696-3, £18.99.

Reviewed by: Revd Dr Carol Campbell, Lead Chaplain, Clyde Sector, Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board, Scotland.


Janice Clarke, a highly experienced nurse practitioner, translates the theory of spiritual care in nursing into a language that is not only understood by all grades of the nursing profession but also all NHS workers who seek to fulfil their role through provision of good spiritual care. It is because of this that the book should not only be essential reading for the nurse, but also be of value to all NHS staff not least the health and social care chaplain who seeks to develop the spiritual care service.

Clarke is on the board of the British Association for the Study of Spirituality and has critically researched the place of spiritual care within the processes and procedures of nursing and healthcare. She presents her case simply and centres it on the following belief:

Nursing needs to respond…not by adding spirituality to its lists of things to do but by absorbing spirituality into everything that it does so that all care is spiritual.

She develops this thinking throughout the book and offers very practical illustrations of how all aspects of a nurse’s role can be offered in the context of spiritual care. Her approach differs from other spiritual care writers as she highlights the physical aspects of the job as being essential to the spiritual care that nurses provide.

The book is divided into four parts:

1. What is Spirituality?

In this section, Clarke discusses the need for compassionate relationships:

While creating relationships where patients feel free to talk about themselves is certainly part of spiritual care, it is also the relationships themselves and the care, love, warmth, presence, touch, competence, assurance and security they can provide which should be recognised to be spiritual care, in and of itself.

She also speaks of the integration of body, mind and soul and uses this image to demonstrate that attending to the physical needs of a patient can indeed be spiritual care.

2. What Can Affect Spirituality?

Clarke speaks of illness as something which can often cause a degree of loss and loneliness and recognizes that faith may be strengthened or threatened at such times. She also highlights the need for listening, caring, respecting and valuing when tending to people with mental illness.

3. How to Turn Spirituality into Spiritual Care

The core of this section can be seen in the following statement:

In essence spiritual care is about how you are being while you are doing. Each encounter is a time for doing and being, and each encounter is an opportunity for spiritual care.

4. Making Physical Care Spiritual

This section covers some of the physical acts of caring for a patient and suggests how each act can have spiritual significance. She refers to the place of touch, movement, bathing and assisting someone to eat as opportunities of making physical care spiritual.

Clarke very helpfully outlines spiritual care from the nursing perspective. She writes in such a way that any grade of nursing staff would be clear as to their role in spiritual care. This is indeed one of the strengths of the book. From a chaplaincy perspective, chaplains recognize the essential role that nurses play in providing spiritual care and it is good to see someone from the nursing profession so warmly embracing and defining spiritual care as a natural part of their role.

Perhaps a point for further reflection is in the conclusion of the book, Clarke states:

Doctors, chaplains and psychiatrists have all assumed that the way nurses should provide spiritual care is little different from the way they do. But they cannot rub a patient’s back or soak a patient’s feet…

It is true that it is unlikely that the professions mentioned above would soak a patient’s feet. However, as Clarke has previously mentioned, there is a difference between being and doing. Each profession will therefore be significantly different in what they do but should not be significantly different in how they be. It is being that is important in defining spiritual care. All NHS employees have things to ‘do’ but everything that we do should echo the same sentiment that is written in this book; the importance of relationships, value, love, touch, listening, care, respect. Doctors, chaplains, psychiatrists, porters, domestics and catering staff all have opportunity to carry out their work in a way that encompasses the being of spiritual care.

Clarke notes:

It is time for nurses to find their own voice and explore the spirituality inherent in the actual work they do, not in a sanitised, ordered version of their day created by others.

Clarke has indeed sought to do as she suggests in her exploration of spiritual care in the work of a nurse. My question however would be, who are the “others” that she refers to who are seeking to sanitize the working day? My hope is that it is not chaplains as chaplains would be (or should be) the first to encourage all NHS staff to “find their own voice and explore the spirituality inherent in the actual work they do”. This is indeed one of the reasons for a chaplain’s employment.

Perhaps a more pertinent question that this raises for the health and social care chaplain is how do they as a profession “find their own voice and explore the spirituality inherent in the actual work they do”. What is the actual work they do? If it is only to be described as providing love, touch, listening, care, respect, then they are only doing what all other professions seek to do as they get on with their actual work. It could even be argued by some that if others are providing good spiritual care, is there any need for a chaplain at all? As a health and social care chaplain with a background in nursing, I believe that the NHS chaplain has not only an essential role, but a very unique role within the multidisciplinary team. Time does not permit me to elaborate further based on my own research.1 It must be noted however, that while the nursing profession embraces spiritual care at its very core, the chaplaincy profession must be loud and clear as to its own unique and valued role within the NHS.


1. See Carol Campbell, The Vulnerable Self, HSCC 2.1 (2014).


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