Produced by

How can I go about addressing faith within holistic conversations?

Standard questions.

Including standard questions about faith and belief in holistic assessments at the very start of conversations can help normalise discussion of faith and give a clear rationale for asking faith-informed questions later. It can prevent someone from feeling stereotyped because they look like a person of faith.

Adding a primer statement at the beginning can help provide context for why you are asking the question.

Keep it broad. Speaking about “faith/religious or spiritual beliefs and practices” rather than “religions” covers a wider range of faiths and beliefs. People think about their faith differently, and not every person who identifies with or practices faith will consider themselves “religious”.

Example question


“For some people, their faith or spiritual beliefs and practices act as a source of comfort and strength in dealing with life’s ups and downs…”


“…is this the case for you?”

Let them lead.

Let the person lead. Use open questions and active listening to allow people to share more about their faith if they desire, without being overly suggestive, or leading them towards a particular conclusion.

You can leave the door open to talking about faith and belief later on by saying, “As we talk, if you feel it would be helpful for me to understand more about your faith or belief in any way please do let me know.”

Open questions require more than one-word answers, inviting deeper reflection and allow the person asked to decide where they want to take the conversation.

Example questions

“Can you tell me about where you might go for support?”

“What gives you hope?”

“What keeps you going in difficult times?”

Cultural humility.

Take a position of cultural humility. Intend to honour the person’s beliefs and culture, regardless of how much you “know”. Be curious, and willing to learn, without interrogating. View “cultural attunement” as a continuous journey and not a discrete skill that can be achieved.

Some practitioners are adopting the term “cultural attunement” to refer to an approach that combines cultural humility, cultural empathy and cultural curiosity in becoming gradually attuned to another’s lived experience.

Example question

It may be relevant to ask a question about practices or observances in order to help provide support.

“Are there any specific practices, routines or requirements that I should be aware of in providing your support or care?”

we are ... trying to move away [from] being ‘culturally competent’, where you try and learn everything about someone's faith, and instead, taking the lens that the person is the expert ... practicing cultural humility, and learning ... what faith means to them.

Don't over-identify.

Try not to over-identify with those who seem similar to you. When speaking with someone who seems to be from a similar faith or cultural background to you, don’t assume that they feel the same way you do about faith and belief practices, and what bearing these may have on mental health and suicidal ideation. Some things that can help:

Working Within Diversity by Myira Khan contains a helpful reflective exercise designed to help practitioners think about their own feelings, attitudes and assumptions toward faith and belief.

Facts to feelings.

Try to go beyond facts about faith, to feelings about faith. It’s one thing knowing that someone identifies with a faith, or attends a place of worship, it’s another thing understanding how that person feels about faith, and whether they wish to access faith-based support. Is faith a comfort or support for them, or a potential trigger for anxiety?

Example question

“How does your faith/spirituality affect you? Does it make you feel loved/supported/accepted, or isolated/different/alone, etc.?”

Sometimes being a part of a religious community adds this layer of kind of pressure and expectation that you should be turning to God in in difficult times, whereas that might not be aligned with how an individual is feeling.

Share on