Spiritual Assessment: A Review of Major Qualitative Methods and a New Framework for Assessing Spirituality

Article excerpt

This article introduces a new qualitative spiritual assessment instrument. It reviews existing qualitative assessment tools and presents a new multidimensional spiritual assessment framework. The instrument consists of two components: a spiritual history in which consumers relate their spiritual life story in a manner analogous to a family history and an interpretive framework to assist practitioners in eliciting and synthesizing the full potentiality of strengths extant in clients' spiritual lives. Common spiritual strengths the framework is designed to evoke are discussed, and a number of interventions based on prevalent spiritual strengths are suggested.

Key words: assessment; qualitative methods; religion; spirituality; strengths perspective

As Mattaini and Kirk (1991) observed, assessment is an underdeveloped area in social work. Nowhere is the lack of maturation more evident than in the area of spiritual assessment (Bullis, 1996; Sherwood, 1998). Although there have been numerous calls for the reintegration of spirituality into the therapeutic dialogue (Bullis; Cornett, 1992; Derezotes, 1995; Jacobs, 1997; Poole, 1998; Rey, 1997; Sermabeikian, 1994), multidimensional instruments that assess spirituality in a therapeutically constructive fashion are conspicuously absent. Surveys have shown repeatedly that social workers have received little training in issues related to spirituality or spiritual assessment (Bullis; Derezotes; Sheridan, Bullis, Adcock, Berlin & Miller, 1992; Furman & Chandy, 1994). Furman and Chandy found that more than three-quarters of practitioners received little or no training in spirituality during their graduate education, despite the central role it plays in the lives of many consumers.

Spurring interest in the assessment of spirituality has been the accumulation of an impressive body of empirical findings documenting spirituality's salience in a wide range of areas, including mental health (Ventis, 1995), coping ability (Pargament, 1997), self-esteem (Ellison, 1993), and the realization of personal strengths (Maton & Salem, 1995). It is also a significant variable in recovery from divorce (Nathanson, 1995), homelessness (Montgomery, 1994), sexual assault (Kennedy, Davis, & Talyor, 1998), and substance abuse (Muffler, Langrod, & Larson, 1992). Several hundred studies exist on spirituality and religion, the majority of which suggest that spirituality is a key strength in personal well-being (Ellison & Levin, 1998).

Spirituality and religion often are used interchangeably, but they are distinct, although overlapping, concepts (Carroll, 1997). Religion flows from spirituality and expresses an internal subjective reality, corporately, in particular institutionalized forms, rituals, beliefs, and practices (Canda, 1997; Carroll). Spirituality is defined as a relationship with God, or whatever is held to be the Ultimate (for example, a set of sacred texts for Buddhists) that fosters a sense of meaning, purpose, and mission in life. In turn, this relationship produces fruit (such as altruism, love, or forgiveness) that has a discernible effect on an individual's relationship to self, nature, others, and the Ultimate (Carroll; Sermabeikian, 1994; Spero, 1990).

An additional factor stimulating interest in assessing spirituality is the profession s growing acceptance of the strengths perspective, which posits clients' personal and environmental strengths as central to the helping process. With growing use of clients' capabilities in the clinical dialogue to ameliorate problems, interest in how to identify clients' strengths, such as spirituality, has increased (Cowger, 1994; Hwang & Cowger, 1998).

Assessment is critical to the incorporation of strengths into the therapeutic milieu. Without a reliable means for finding consumers' strengths, workers tend to revert to practice models that are based on the identification of problems and deficits (Ronnau & Poertner, 1993). …