Saturday, March 31, 2018

Is There a Place for Spirituality in Medicine?

     Let us start with a definition of “spirituality”. When searching the “black hole” of the internet for the meaning of the world spirituality, many definitions can be uncovered. I have constructed my own definition based on the countless number of interpretations out there. In a nutshell, spirituality can be defined as a sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves, a concept of deeper meaning as a basis for how an individual lives his or her life. It is the quality of being concerned with the human spirit and it’s origin as opposed to outward, physical attributes and material things. For some, spirituality is expressed in partaking in organized religion, prayer, and in adhering to specific moral principles and values. For others, spirituality and religion hold two separate meanings and should not be intertwined. A large portion of modern society has become so self-absorbed and concerned with what will benefit them and them alone, that some definitions of spirituality have morphed into a concept of self-desire with the absence of any concern for truth, or belief in something bigger than themselves.
     With the knowledge that the art of medicine should be practiced with a solid foundation of concern for others, it is no surprise that the notion of “narcissistic spirituality” would be antagonistic rather than an integrative concept. On the other hand, I strongly believe that spirituality in terms of faith, comfort based on existence of a higher power, and purpose in life, has a vital role in medicine. This is not to say that we as health care providers should attempt to impose our spiritual/religious beliefs on others, but we should be open to those who desire this aspect of care and should offer to support them in terms of their spiritual needs. We do not need to know what religious group someone belongs to, or what spiritual beliefs he or she holds. It is not our place to judge anyone based on the details of their spirituality; rather we should seek to care for our patients in a holistic manner, caring for mind, body, and spirit, based on their individual needs and concerns. This means listening carefully, acknowledging any spiritual concerns, providing comfort and support, and if desired, offering to pray with them.

     As a provider with a sincere concern for the health and well-being of my patients, I see the importance of addressing needs beyond the physical realm. Not only is there a barrage of research data out there documenting the benefits of spiritual care in medicine; however, I have witnessed the benefits countless times in interacting with my own patients. Meeting spiritual as well as physical needs provides a level of care that is unparalleled. Evidence (and common sense!) demonstrates that religion/spirituality coincides with optimism, well-being, happiness, and hope to name a few of the associated positive emotions. These emotions, in turn, enhance immunity, healing, and positive mental health outcomes. It has been demonstrated that chronic stress and despair can cause a significant decline in the immune system, specifically the antiviral and antitumor responses. Cortisol and epinephrine are the stress hormones responsible for this decline, and without happiness or hope, these stress hormones are in constant, damaging circulation. Author Orison Swett Marden once stated: “There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great, and no tonic so powerful as expectation of something tomorrow”.  Spirituality and religion produce hope and purpose and this can provide healing that surpasses any medication or procedure. 

     One of my favorite Bible verses, “A merry heart does good, like medicine, But a broken spirit dries the bones” (Proverbs 17:22), wraps it up by telling us that hope and happiness are the optimal medicine for any ailment.  This spiritual “Xanax “could be the remedy for those suffering from a broken spirit and it is my duty to offer this to anyone in need!

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