What is Spiritual Support and How Might It Impact the Design of Online Communities?

Estelle Smith, Avleen Kaur, Katie Z. Gach, Loren Terveen, Mary Jo Kreitzer, Susan O'Conner-Von

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Spirituality is an understudied topic in social computing; however, for Online Health Community (OHC) users facing life-threatening illness, it is of fundamental importance. Through in-depth focus groups with OHC stakeholders in a US context, we derive a definition of "spiritual support"for use by designers and researchers who study online social support. We show that spiritual support is an integral dimension that underlies other social support types, and that if we ignore spirituality in design, we fail to mitigate problematic issues that arise in online spaces when users' spiritual values clash. Based on participants' ideations, we provide design implications for OHCs and other social media to better facilitate spiritual support through: (1) representing spiritual beliefs, (2) assistance with supportive communication, (3) support network visualization and mobilization, and (4) advance care planning and digital legacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number43
JournalProceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction
Issue numberCSCW1
StatePublished - Apr 22 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We want to express our deepest gratitude to all of our participants; we cannot adequately thank them for sharing their vulnerability, their time, and their words. This work was supported by

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 ACM.


  • caregiver
  • caringbridge
  • digital legacy
  • health
  • online health communities
  • patient
  • prayer support
  • religion
  • social support
  • spiritual support
  • spirituality
  • supportive communication
  • visualization


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