Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario

Practice Notes related to Assessment of Spiritual, emotional and existential distress

The expert panel emphasized that nurses should reflect on their knowledge level, comfort and ability to conduct appropriate spiritual, emotional and existential assessments prior to doing so, because when such assessments are done incorrectly—or if the nurse is not prepared to deal with the outcomes of the assessment—they can be harmful to persons and their families.

Assessments should be communicated to the interprofessional health team and documented. Moreover, the expert panel highlighted the importance of nurses recognizing when the complexity of the needs of the person and their family exceeds their knowledge, training and scope of practice. In these instances, interprofessional approaches may be necessary to meet the needs of persons and families, and nurses should seek the involvement of appropriate interprofessional health team members in a timely manner (76). Interprofessional health team support has been demonstrated to assist in addressing spiritual needs, particularly when health providers are not comfortable addressing spiritual care needs when it is beyond their knowledge or skill (76).

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