Integrating Spirituality and Religion Into Occupational Therapy

Most US adults are spiritual and/or believe in God. Approximately 77% of US adults are affiliated with a religion and 60 to 80% of Americans believe in God, yet our healthcare system does not often create space to understand the influence of religion or spirituality in the health and well-being of patients. For purposes of this article, spirituality is defined as the experience of meaning in everyday life activities. Occupational therapy (OT), described as a holistic field of medicine, still has some room to grow in recognizing and accounting for the role of spirituality or religion in a patient’s healing process. But, progress is being made. Holistic approaches to OT are gaining movement within multiple OT settings.

A child holding beads

While some therapists may be uncomfortable with this concept in practice, it’s in the best interest of the patient’s health to account for this facet of life that exists within the majority of the world. In fact, spirituality is included in the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework, implying the inclusion of a spirituality component of client-centered practice.

A Consideration for OTs

Occupational Therapists who have integrated spirituality into their practice often state four themes of consideration:

  1. addressing any religious concerns with the patient
  2. addressing suffering, loss, or pain
  3. encouraging the self or building up confidence
  4. gaining insight as a therapist

What an incredible opportunity to reflect on and participate in the improvement of all aspects of the self: physically, mentally, and spiritually. The article "Spiritual Assessments in Occupational Therapy" provides some great spiritual assessment tools for OT practice. These assessments include:

Patients who consider themselves spiritual or religious and are continuing or entering into occupational therapy might also assess how their own religion or spirituality might affect the therapeutic process.

A Consideration for Patients

First, are your religious practices hindered as a result of pain or injury? What do you consider a priority, in terms of a therapy timeline, to gain the ability to participate in a religious or spiritual practice, i.e., meditation, yoga, or prayer? Second, what is the purpose of this pain and suffering? If an individual who has experienced trauma or suffering feels conflicted about their pain, how can the therapeutic process be successful, other than perhaps, through improvements in physical ability? Finally, how will your spirituality or religion help you in the therapeutic process? Is there anything the OT should know that could dramatically improve your OT session?

Please, feel that these considerations are important and valid in discussing your care with your occupational therapist. This conversation may take place in the evaluation process or can occur throughout the treatment process.

A Significant Reality

While some may cringe at the idea of entering into this territory, it is a reality of life that most people in the world engage in some form of religion or spirituality and that this component does affect their health. While researchers are still unclear about what specifically causes this link, occupational therapists, patients, and the entire healthcare system must account for this reality. Patients and therapists who, in the very least, engage in reflection and intentionality in their therapy process will surely benefit from such an approach.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Pew Research Center. U.S. Public Becoming Less Religious. Updated November 3, 2015.

  2. Egan M, Swedersky J. Spirituality as Experienced by Occupational Therapists in Practice. Am J Occup Ther. 2003;57:525-533. doi:10.5014/ajot.57.5.525

  3. Hemphill, B. Spiritual Assessments in Occupational Therapy. Open J Occup Ther. 2015;3(3). doi:10.15453/2168-6408.1159