Over time western medicine has gradually separated the physical from the spiritual. But when medicine confronts life-limiting illness and the promise of a cure dims, another approach is required. Confronting dying often brings with it questions such as, “Why me?" or "What will happen to me when life ends?" or “What has my life meant?" These are inherently issues of the spirit, not issues for biology or chemistry. Physicians and other healthcare providers increasingly recognize that good care of the dying is as much or more about these questions as it is about the relief of pain and symptoms.
What spirituality means to the individual
The word “religion" is often identified with adherence to a particular set institutionalized befief systems and for some has a suggestion of the supernatural. The term "spirituality" is a more neutral term through which we acknowledge our common human need to find meaning in our fives and in our relationship to something beyond ourselves.
Spirituality is an expression of how a person relates to a larger whole - that which an individual perceives as greater than him or herself. The nature of this transcendent purpose can be expressed in different ways. For instance, it might be expressed through a specific religious tradition or, perhaps, through a regard for nature. For another person it might be expressed through connection to the human family itself or in some other way.
Spirituality provides a source of meaning and understanding about the significance of being human. It addresses the question of "Why am I here?" An expression of spirituality can occur without any specific religious belief.
Spirituality often contains habits, rituals, gestures and symbols that can help a person interpret and manage existence. Some of these maybe acquired through or adapted from a specific religious tradition. Others maybe ones that a person, family or community has developed.
Religion itself plays an important part in the lives of Americans. A 2001 Gallup poll found 95% of those surveyed believed in God, 68% indicated they were members of a religious institution, and 44% had attended one in the past 7 days, and 58% said that religion was "very important in fife."
The importance of spirituality in health care
Increasingly, medical schools are realizing that addressing spirituality can be an important and useful part of patient care, 61 medical schools now include some teaching about spirituality and medicine.
In medical school courses on spirituality, students learn to work with many facets of spirituality and focus on the clinical integration of these themes into pregnancy, childbirth, chronic pain, psychiatric illness, addiction and dependency disorders, disability and care of the dying.
People want their doctors to ask them about spiritual concerns. A 1996 USA Today survey found that 63% of those surveyed believe it is good for doctors to talk to patients about spiritual beliefs.
Research increasingly shows that spiritual practices have a positive effect on overall health and well being. By providing social support, such practices buffer stress and enhance coping.
Doctors should concern themselves with patients' spirituality because:
Attention to spiritual matters is integral to the delivery of hospice care. Our inter-faith pastoral care team is available to hospice patients and families of all faiths, or no particular faith. They are all carefully trained in hospice philosophy and the issues surrounding grief and loss and are called upon regularly to counsel with our patients and their families.
From Hospice of Southeastern Connecticut
“Updates & Insights”
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