Recognising that everyone has a spiritual life

The following article was written by the team at Meaningful Ageing, which is running a regional seminar series until June 2018.


In a recent regional seminar, ‘Spiritual Care in a Diverse World’ a woman entered the room and sat towards the back with her arms crossed and body slightly turned away. Her posture screamed, ‘I don’t want to be here’.

Merisa Holland, an educator with Meaningful Ageing Australia, opened the seminar by asking, “Who here provides spiritual care?” Five hands out of the group of 14 rose in response. She continued with a story from her practice as a spiritual care specialist which introduced some concepts relating to spirituality and spiritual care.

About 30 minutes in to the seminar, she heard someone loudly say “Oh, wow!”. It was the same woman. “I don’t think she realised how loud she had said it. When I enquired, she said ‘I just realised that everyone has a spiritual life. I had no idea. I thought that spiritual needs or spiritual life were just about religion. This is awesome and will change the way I look at my work’”.

Merisa says that from that point, she was one of the most enthusiastic contributors to the workshop. Her feedback at the end was that it was nothing like she had expected and that she really enjoyed the learning. She said she was keen to talk with her CEO about further education for staff in the area of spiritual care.

This wonderful light bulb moment isn’t a single occurrence in Meaningful Ageing Australia’s work with aged care leaders, managers and direct care staff. Some people, when hearing the words spirituality or spiritual care, automatically hear ‘religion’, and switch off.

With skilled facilitation, participants come to see that all people have a spirituality and that religion may be part of that for some. One participant said that the seminar seemed to shift people’s ideas, so they knew that “spirituality is not just about religion”. Another said, “At first I didn’t see the relevance to me or my position, but it soon became evident”.

The light bulb moments come as educators share examples from their own work of integrating spiritual care into their work, letting participants know that they don’t have to have all the answers, and offering skills in reflective listening.

Participants come to realise that they are already providing spiritual care to the older people in their care, “I didn’t realise that was spiritual care. I already do that”. They take away key skills and affirmation of the work they are already doing. “Listening is the most important – rather than giving advice or information”. Participants say that the seminars create an insight into the understanding of spirituality and care, “how you already do it without thinking, and ways to improve on it”.

Sometimes questions or statements from the group members provide an opportunity to open out the concept of spirituality and spiritual care, bringing more nuanced and pluralistic perspectives.

In one session, a nurse asked, “What is a chaplain. Is it good for an organisation to have a chaplain?” The educator then had the opportunity to talk about spirituality in a diverse world, and to say that organisations don’t have to have a chaplain, but access to spiritual care specialists is important.

At the end of the session, Merisa asked the group again, “Who here provides spiritual care?”. Fourteen hands went up.

The Meaningful Ageing Regional Seminar Series continues in locations across Australia until the end of June.

If you’re interested to learn more please visit or call 03 8387 2274.


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