Testing the Validity of a Protocol to Screen for Spiritual Struggle among Parents of Children with Cystic Fibrosis

Daniel H Grossoehme, George Fitchett
Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion 2013, 24: 281-307
Spirituality is important to many Americans and is used to cope with adverse events. Some forms of spiritual coping are maladaptive or troubling, and are known as negative spiritual coping or spiritual struggle. These forms of spirituality are often associated with poorer physical and mental health outcomes. Thus, in clinical contexts there is a need to identify persons who may be experiencing spiritual struggle and, if indicated, offer spiritual care that may address that struggle. Twenty-two parents of children with cystic fibrosis (CF) completed semi-structured interviews and questionnaires exploring spirituality's role in their child's illness. Interviews included oral administration of a protocol to screen for spiritual struggle. The parents also completed the negative religious coping subscale of the Brief RCOPE, a commonly used measure of spiritual struggle. Descriptive statistics were obtained. The screening protocol identified 18% of the parents as potentially having spiritual struggle. Thirty-two percent had negative religious coping scores suggestive of spiritual struggle. Comparison of results with both measures found the screening protocol had good specificity (87%) but relatively low sensitivity (29%). Using either measure, indications of spiritual struggle were associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms. The screener's administration was acceptable and feasible. The low sensitivity may be due in part to differences between the focus of the screener and that of the negative religious coping subscale, which focuses on struggle with the Divine. Further work is needed to establish the best approach to screening for spiritual struggle.

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