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Bringing Spirituality to Medicine

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Two years ago a friend mentioned that her daughter was appointed as a chaplain in a nearby hospital. I remember at the time contacting her and asking if any materials were needed to share with patients. I don’t recall her response, but I got the sense from her that religious activities were not an integral part of the hospital’s operation. Instead, they were more of a support service – available upon call with a small office and maybe a small room for prayer. Wow, did I reach the wrong conclusion!

Recently, there has been much consideration given to the relationship between religion, spirituality, and health. Like all new areas of development, some wish to move forward with little supportive evidence while others wish to only refine what might be acceptable in their own field. However, a new breathe of fresh air is blowing and individuals from all sides of this issue – connecting religion, spirit, and health – are looking into methods to treat the whole man.

Treating the whole man is what the GWish and the John Templeton Foundation are working toward. Gwish, or George Washington University’s Institute for Spirituality and Health, is currently overseeing a National Spiritual Care Demonstration Project at nine academic medical centers – with one at UCLA in Los Angeles, California. These pilot sites are testing and developing tools that may be used to make judgments about quality of care while applying alternative and traditional western medicine in healing the whole man. According to the Wall Street Journal, John Templeton Foundation, which funds research into such issues that intersect science and spirituality, recently awarded a three-year, $3 million grant to the New York-based Health Care Chaplaincy. This organization will use this grant to select and fund half a dozen national research projects to advance and test models for chaplaincy practice, especially in palliative care for the most seriously ill patients.

Quality of care is not the only concern for hospitals, though. With present health care costs continually rising, hospital administrators, doctors, and nurses are trying to find ways to contain expenses while still providing programs that are beneficial to the patient. Adding new programs in an already expensive arena means that the chaplaincy program will need to provide solid evidence of its benefits. “There is research to support that what chaplains do helps, but we really need to see more of it,” stated Emanuel Chirico, Chief executive of apparel maker PVH Corp, and trustee at the Health Care Chaplaincy.

The discussion of care and treating the whole man is becoming more vocal in the medical arena, which is leading to more receptivity toward chaplain work and spirituality in hospitals. “Physicians, meanwhile, need to stop focusing solely on medical cures and consider the needs of the ‘whole person,’” says Linda Lee, clinical director of the integrative medicine and digestive center at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

This documented, well financed, and professionally led effort by GWish to focus on the whole man through the development of a team approach has great potential as it is designed to use the best practices in the spiritual and medical fields. Spiritual leader Mary Baker Eddy wrote in the 1800’s, “The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God,–a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love…Prayer, watching, and working, combined with self-immolation, are God’s gracious means for accomplishing whatever has successfully done for the Christianization and health of mankind.”

Having served as a visiting chaplain in California institutions and feeling isolated from the institution’s leadership, I can appreciate the foundation this pilot program will give for the development of a more balanced use of alternative medicines as well as traditional western medicine. According to studies, the most commonly used alternative is prayer. Having a well organized chaplaincy program integrated into the health team can allow for a view with consideration of the whole man – which includes spiritual aspects – in treating health concerns.

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About Don Ingwerson

Previously in the education sector as Superintendent of Schools, Don Ingwerson now serves as the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in Southern California and corrects misconceptions about Christian Science. Don is a frequent blogger about health and spirituality.
  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    If there was scientific evidence to back up claims that “spirituality” helps to heal the sick then I would consider this submission a Science / Tech article. But, the fact of the matter is that Christianity has had 3000 years to prove itself scientifically and has never done so. Personally, I think the medical community should continue to focus on medicine, technology to help us discover new cures (including herbal if possible) and provide us with the education necessary to be proactive with our own lives instead of including some sort of fairytale savior that allows for people to dismiss the responsibility to take care of yourself.

  • Yes, this should definitely be in the Culture section.

    It may very well be true that considering the whole person rather than the immediate medical issue is a useful approach but that doesn’t necessarily mean involving Christianity or any other spiritual theories, particularly for patients that don’t subscribe to the monotheist concept.

    As to the author, Christianity can have opinions about science but strictly speaking there is no such thing as Christian science.

  • Susan

    I disagree with the premise expressed by the previous two commenters that an article on healing and spirituality should not be in the Science/ Tech section. Much research has been done and continues to be done to understand spirituality and how it is relevant to health. An interesting new article just published by Noetic Now Journal talks about unexpected remission of cancer and mentions spirituality as a possible cause.

  • Susan, if and when the effects of spirituality on healing can be explained and quantified, this kind of article would belong in Sci/Tech.

    As it can’t, it rightly belongs in the useful amorphousness we call Culture.

    As to your second point, the clue is the word “possible”, as in possible cause, not actually proven. That is precisely the difference between science and faith; the former is held to a higher standard…

  • Bob

    If science and scientists always confined themselves to those things that can be “explained and quantified” we wouldn’t be where we are today.

  • Don Ingwerson

    Bob, your comment brought back a statement made Dr. Einstein: Dr. Einstein’s high regard for Science and Health is reflected in the following: ‘Science and Health is beyond this generation’s understanding. It is the pure science. And, to think that a woman knew this over eighty years ago!’”

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus


    Most of the time those scientists are trying to prove or disprove theirs or other scientists theories. So, sure, they may have ideas that cannot be explained or quantified at the moment but they usually do have some sort of math to back up those ideas. Whereas, with Religion/faith/spirituality, there has been more evidence to disprove then to support. Like, the fact that gravity makes things appear out of nothing…

    “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to … set the Universe going.” -Stephen Hawking

  • Bob, I don’t understand what you are saying.

    Scientists are trying to understand and explain the world and the wider universe we live and we require them to substantiate their explanations.

    Don, say what? Incomprehensible much?

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    And because they have substantiated their explanations on more than one occasion, we are now pulling further & further away from the antiquated idea that has caused most of the trouble for the human race. If we were to force this nonsense onto the medical community we’d only be doing an injustice to the people who spend their lives helping people!!