Spirituality and the arts: discovering what really matters

Nigel Hartley

in Oxford Textbook of Spirituality in Healthcare

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print August 2012 | ISBN: 9780199571390
Published online August 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199665037 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Textbook in Public Health

Spirituality and the arts: discovering what really matters

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  • Public Health and Epidemiology
  • Palliative Medicine


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The arts — music, painting, sketching, poetry, storytelling, drama — allow us to access and represent aspects of our experience that may otherwise elude recognition and articulation. This can, in turn, reinforce resilience and enhance understanding of our selves, other people, and our world. A growing body of evidence shows that the arts and humanities can help patients to manage pain and the side effects of some treatments, to alleviate stress and anxiety, and to come to terms with what can be major and distressing episodes in their lives. Not surprisingly, the arts have for many years been used for therapeutic support and intervention in serious illness, and end-of-life care. Similarly, arts-based programmes that promote collective action have been used to improve health knowledge and practice and develop community resilience. The arts and humanities encourage us to value ways of knowing, particularly experiential and presentational knowing that in healthcare contexts can be marginalized by the clinical sciences’ focus on propositional and practical knowing. Arts-based enquiries explore how individuals and communities construct meaning by representing and reflecting upon experiences that challenge prior understandings of the world and our place in it. Arts-based enquiry is thus a natural ally of spiritual growth and care. Creative arts methods are also increasingly being used in research enquiries in which spirituality is an integral, albeit at times more an implicit than explicit, part. This chapter outlines possibilities opened up by arts-based enquiries carried out in the particular setting of St Christopher’s Hospice, London, and the context of end-of-life care. Following an orientation to the setting and its approach to care, three stories illustrate the development of spiritual insight through creative arts enquiry, and in doing so demonstrate the potential for arts-based approaches to offer support in critical life transitions in general.

Chapter.  6893 words. 

Subjects: Public Health and Epidemiology ; Palliative Medicine

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