George A. Sprecace M.D., J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New London, P.C.

Physician / Patient Spirituality

A  person's spiritual life is and should be among the most private of his or her life activities.  People and especially patients  handle this in different ways.  Some protect their private meditations and hopes.  Others  share them with family.  Many, but not all, wish  the assistance and intervention of clergy at such times.

And occasionally  a patient who has a close relationship with his  physician wishes for an extra modicum of advocacy from his physician:  he wishes to share his spiritual life and concerns with that person, that friend.  When articulated by the patient,  such a desire presents a unique opportunity to the physician, if he is similarly inclined, to be of even greater help to his patient.

Into this dynamic now come professional and societal concerns regarding the "propriety" of such an expanded relationship.  "Should the physician, upon request, pray with his patient - in addition to praying for him?"  There is a growing literature on the subject, and the reader might start with an article published within the last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine: ( Physician and Patient Spirituality: Professional Boundaries, Competency, and Ethics (Annals of Internal Medicine 2000:132-578-583).  Another useful article is entitled " Developing Curricula In Spirituality and Medicine" Academic Medicine, Volume 73,  No 9, September 1998.

In my experience and opinion, there should be no external impediment to the mutual desire of patient and physician to explore the spiritual armamentarium  of Health and Healing, so long as both participants enter this sphere as equals before God.  For anyone in this increasingly non-spiritual and even cynical society who questions the power of prayer, the results of two investigations on the power of "intercessory prayer",  one in 1988 and another in 1999, should be enlightening. In both controlled studies,  involving patients in eight Critical Care units,  those for whom prayers were offered - without their knowledge - fared  substantially better than those who received only the " best of medicine".

The "power of prayer" is not simply a cliche. When  illness strikes, and even as preventive medicine, remember it and decide how to bring to bear in your case.

See also "Can Prayer Really Heal?", by Dianne Hales, Parade Magazine, Sunday, March 23, 2003, pp. 4-5.


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