Frontline Initiative Spirituality

The ethics of supporting spirituality

As DSPs, is it important to include the spirituality of the people we support in our professional practice? If so, how do we do it in an ethical manner? Can we draw from our own beliefs and spiritual walk in providing that support? Answers to these questions and others are in NADSP” Code of Ethics. This document is a great starting point for plotting a course of ethical spiritual support to those you serve. 

The first question is whether we should support the spirituality of others at all. NADSP’s Code of Ethics, or what I like to think of as a compass for DSPs, speaks clearly to this. The preamble reads, “A primary purpose of DSPs is to assist people who need support to lead self-directed lives and to participate fully in our communities and nation.” When an individual seeks a spiritual connection, whether it is religious, cultural, natural or self-defined, it is the role of DSPs to support the person’s self-direction and connection to the community.

Person-centered supports

As a DSP, my first allegiance is to the person I support; all other activities and functions I perform flow from this allegiance.

  • Sometimes we may question the individual’s choice, we may believe our own spiritual path is correct, or we may be tempted to “suggest” our own beliefs and values on those we support. This leaves DSPs unsure of how to reconcile these questions with the person-centered focus. At these times, it can help to revisit the ethical standards by which we practice. Person-centered supports is an overarching premise of our practice.

Promoting physical and emotional well-being

As a DSP, I am responsible for supporting the emotional, physical, and personal wellbeing of the individuals receiving support. I will encourage growth and recognize the autonomy of the individuals receiving support while being attentive and energetic in reducing their risk of harm.

  • For DSPs, this means knowing and respecting the values of the people being supported and facilitating their expression of choices related to those values.
  • As a part of promoting physical and emotional well-being we are expected to know and respect the values of the people we support and help them to express their choices related to these values. And spirituality may be one of those values.

Integrity and responsibility

As a DSP, I will support the mission and vitality of my profession to assist people in leading self-directed lives and to foster a spirit of partnership with the people I support, other professionals, and the community.

  • For DSPs, this means being aware of their own values and how those values influence their professional decisions.
  • In acting with integrity and responsibility, we look inward and think about our own values and how they influence our decisions. Often our values will share enough in common with the person we support to make concerns about ethical support of spirituality moot. In my experience, there are more commonalities across spiritual, religious, and cultural paths than differences. Support often starts with dialogue and relationship building. Both are key parts of providing ethical support. When we share values it can often lead to an easier path to spiritual support and it is important to note the similarities. When there are differences it may be more difficult to offer spiritual support. But it still remains our responsibility.


As a DSP, I will respect the human dignity and uniqueness of the people I support. I will recognize each person I support as valuable and help others understand their value.

  • For DSPs, this means honoring the choices and preferences of the people they support.
  • Lastly, DSPs can reflect upon the ethical statement of respect. Respect is often easiest when someone has similar values and preferences to us. But what about when their choices and beliefs are vastly different? This is when we are really called upon to be a professional and honor the code.

When we support a person in living the life they choose, the Code of Ethics guides us to include what they value in charting the journey of support. Spirituality is often one of the values that a person deems important to them. It may be a person’s defining value. In reflecting upon your role as a DSP, review the Code of Ethics, try it out, and learn from your experiences. Ethics can guide us but it is still up to us to examine them, apply them, and learn from them.