Workings of the human spirit in palliative care situations: A consensus model from the Chaplaincy Research Consortium

Linda Emanuel*, George Handzo, George Grant, Kevin Massey, Angelika Zollfrank, Diana Wilke, Richard Powell, Walter Smith, Kenneth Pargament

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Background: Chaplaincy is a relatively new discipline in medicine that provides for care of the human spirit in healthcare contexts for people of all worldviews. Studies indicate wide appreciation for its importance, yet empirical research is limited. Our purpose is to create a model of human spiritual processes and needs in palliative care situations so that researchers can locate their hypotheses in a common model which will evolve with relevant findings. Methods: The Model Building Subgroup worked with the Chaplaincy Research Consortium as part of a larger Templeton Foundation funded project to enhance research in the area. It met with members for an hour on three successive occasions over three years and exchanged drafts for open comment between meetings. All members of the Subgroup agreed on the final draft. Results: The model uses modestly adapted existing definitions and models. It describes the human experience of spirituality during serious illness in three renditions: visual, mathematical, and verbal so that researchers can use whichever is applicable. The visual rendition has four domains: spiritual, psychological, physical and social with process arrows and permeable boundaries between all areas. The mathematical rendition has the same four factors and is rendered as an integral equation, corresponding to an integrative function postulated for the human spirit. In both renditions, the model is notable in its allowance for direct spiritual experience and a domain or factor in its own right, not only experience that is created through the others. The model does not describe anything beyond the human experience. The verbal rendition builds on existing work to describe the processes of the human spirit, relating it to the four domains or factors. Conclusions: A consensus model of the human spirit to generate hypotheses and evolve based on data has been delineated. Implications of the model for how the human spirit functions and how the chaplain can care for the patient or family caregiver's spiritual coping and well-being are discussed. The next step is to generate researchable hypotheses, results of research from which will give insight into the human spirit and guidance to chaplains caring for it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number29
JournalBMC Palliative Care
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2 2015


  • Chaplaincy
  • Human spirituality
  • Model
  • Palliative care
  • Research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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