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Health Care and Spirituality Can Be Hard to Discuss Together

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Do You Find it Hard to Discuss SpiritualityHave you ever thought about sharing your views about spirituality with someone for the first time? When I think about it, there are actually many opportunities to discuss God and prayer in day-to-day encounters, but many times these opportunities are passed by. According to articles written by physicians, it seems they too have difficulty discussing spiritual beliefs, even though about three-fourths of all patients think spirituality is integral to health. And any one of these missed opportunities could very well have been the life-changing moment in someone else’s life.

This hesitancy can be found in physician Joyce Ho’s blog post about a group discussion on spirituality that she participated in. A chaplain and former ER doctor led the group as they first worked to define spirituality, then shared personal experiences surrounding a spiritual moment, and concluded with a series of questions that could be used to explore a patient’s spiritual or religious beliefs. Participants agreed that physicians felt awkward when they inquired about patients’ spiritual or religious beliefs during treatment and/or diagnosis.

So the question is, why wouldn’t a physician inquire about the spiritual beliefs of a patient when it could lead to health?

For some physicians, though, this question no longer needs to be asked. It isn’t unheard of today to hear a physician discuss his view of spirituality. Dr. Larry Dossey elaborates on the idea that there is a correlation between health and spirituality, and although he doesn’t frame his discussion by naming God, he does talk about the One Mind.

He and others, such as physicians and chaplains at George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health (GWish), have been working on understanding this connection and how to use this understanding to promote health. According to GWISH Director, Dr. Christina Puchalski, spirituality in healthcare is a relatively new field. Although healthcare was originally founded on spiritual values, over the last 80 years healthcare’s focus has moved away from treating the whole person. But today, 90% of medical school curricula contain courses on spirituality, and GWish is doing its part by creating an important dialogue among physicians, clergy, and the patient.

These efforts are certainly bringing a new understanding of the whole person to the bedside. There’s a really good sentence in Science and Health that I find helpful in thinking about how I can overcome my own resistance to bringing spirituality into more discussions: “Rise in the strength of Spirit to resist all that is unlike good.” We, individually as patients and as healthcare providers, must be willing to resist the temptation to avoid talking about our spiritual beliefs. Any resulting discussions will only bring healing.

Photo © GLOW IMAGES.  Models used for illustrative purposes

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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.