The Evolution of Spiritual Assessment Tools in Healthcare

Abstract This article explores the history of spiritual assess- ment tools as a lens through which to consider the place of spirituality and religion in American healthcare. While precise definitions of spiritual assessment have evolved with the con- cept, the phrase generally refers to the process of evaluating someone’s spiritual needs and resources and addressing those needs in the context of clinical healthcare. We trace the diffu- sion of spiritual assessment tools from their origins in chap- laincy and pastoral counseling in the 1970s through nursing, medicine and social work in subsequent decades. While en- gaging with patients around religion and spirituality began as the professional jurisdiction of chaplains, spiritual assessment tools were designed – in part – to enable professionals in other fields to talk with patients about these topics. As such they are both a mechanism of diffusion – a set of questions healthcare professionals who advocate for greater attention to spirituality and religion teach their colleagues to ask – and a symbolic representation of how that diffusion is taking place and where there have been conflicts and bumps along the way.

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