Sunday, August 27, 2017

Spirituality and the Health Care Setting

I recently came across an informative and insightful article about spirituality and health care by Anna Medaris Miller, Health & Wellness editor at U.S. News.

Given how tomorrow I commence a year-long chaplain residency in a Minneapolis hospital, I find Miller's piece to be quite timely and relevant. Perhaps you will find it of interest too. Following is an excerpt.

Research shows that spirituality – which can be defined as anything that gives people's lives meaning, be it faith, family, nature, art or even sports – is a patient need that affects health care decision-making. When spirituality is tended to, it can improve patient outcomes including quality of life and can reduce the cost of care. When spirituality is neglected, on the other hand, patient suffering can intensify.

"The bottom line findings are [that] patient spirituality is very commonly a critical aspect of the patient's experience of a serious illness and a key aspect of their quality of life in the positive direction, but also patients can experience spiritual needs and those needs can result in poorer quality of life," says Dr. Tracy Balboni, the clinical director of the supportive and palliative radiation oncology service at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center in Boston.

People's pain can be particularly severe if their belief systems don't align with what's happening to them or a loved one, finds the Rev. Ronald Oliver of Norton Healthcare in Louisville, Kentucky, and treasurer of the Association of Professional Chaplains. "People have experienced the death of a child and they're trying to figure out, 'Why did this happen?'" he says. "If their worldview doesn't give them some direction, their grief gets stuck."

Health care institutions are catching on to the benefits of incorporating spirituality into medical care. In 2009, for instance, a group of leaders in the field developed research-backed guidelines for better implementing spiritual care in palliative care practice. The guidelines recommend, for instance, that providers use evidence-based spiritual screening tools that prompt them to ask questions like "Are spirituality or religion important in your life?" to help them determine who might benefit from a more in-depth assessment. The guidelines also encourage spiritual providers to document spiritual needs in patients' records, which teams can then use to inform their treatment plans.

The guidelines have since been used by many hospitals and major organizations including the National Academy of Medicine and the American Society of Clinical Oncology, says Dr. Christina Puchalski, director of the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health. "Those guidelines [recognize] that spiritual care is an essential element of good care in general and an absolutely essential element of palliative care," she says.

For patients, that means their spiritual and religious beliefs may be tended to in health care settings in ways relatively unheard of just a few decades ago. Younger clinicians, for example, are more likely to be trained in attentive listening, mindfulness and other techniques that can help them be more compassionate toward patients, says Puchalski, who's also a professor in the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and in the Milken Institute School of Public Health.

"When you see a tear and you see that there's something else going on, I generally stop the questioning and you're there to really be present and love that patient," she says. "That sense of connection is incredibly important in the sense of that patient feeling, 'I think I may be able to get through this.'"

Patients also shouldn't be surprised to find chaplains working alongside doctors, nurses and other health care professionals. "Sometimes people are nervous to ask for a chaplain" because in TV shows, chaplains appear in dire situations, Oliver says. "But that's not the case. The bulk of the work that chaplains do is helping people make sense of the events that are happening to them and try to put it in some frame of meaning." They can also support the health care team by helping them figure out why a patient won't comply with treatment or make what seems like an obvious health care decision, Oliver says.

– Anna Medaris Miller
Excerpted from "Spirituality in Health Care: Seek and Ye Shall Find
U.S. News & World Report
August 8, 2017

Related Off-site Links:
How Chaplains Master the Art of Listening – Kelsey Dallas (Deseret News, August 7, 2017, 2017).
How to Take Care of Others Without Burning Out – Emma Seppala (Scope, July 31, 2017).
The Only Thing You Need to Say to Someone Who Is Hurting – Rhiannon Webb (Thrive Global, August 16, 2017).
Here’s What Not to Say to Someone With Cancer – Deanna Pai (Science of Us, August 1, 2017).
Why Cancer Is Not a War, Fight, or Battle – Xeni Jardin (CNN, July 21, 2017).
New Ways to Think About Death – A playlist of 10 talks from

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Interfaith Chaplaincy: Meeting People Where They're At
Seven Principles for Living with Deep Intention
Questioning God's Benevolence in the Face of Tragedy
Christianity and the Question of God's Presence in the Midst of Hardships and Heartache
Discerning and Embodying Sacred Presence in Times of Violence and Strife
Prayer and the Experience of God in an Ever-Unfolding Universe
The Most Sacred and Simple Mystery of All

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