Through most of recorded history spiritual beliefs and religious practices have been assumed to play a central role in health. Religious leaders were often also seen as healers, or at least mediums through whom healing might come. The 20th century particularly saw a separation between the practice of medicine and spiritual/religious belies and practices. Harlod G. Koenig’s book Spirituality In Patient Care: Why, How, When, and What addresses this gap and argues for the inclusion of patient’s religious and spiritual life as an essential element in “patient-centered medicine” (8). He makes use of volumes of research data to demonstrate the value of religiosity to health, and the importance of health professionals addressing this aspect of their patients’ lives.
The book outlines, as the title suggests, the why, how, when and what of including the spirituality of the patient in the treatment conversation and plan. He then proceeds to discuss some risks – i.e. some ways that religious and spiritual beliefs and practices might be problematic, and how do address these. One example is the notion that illness or suffering is somehow “God’s will” which might dispose a patient to resist treatment or might interfere with that patient’s openness and capacity for healing (108). He outlines professional boundaries for health professionals, and then spends a chapter on each of the following disciplines and how they might address spirituality in patient care: Chaplains and Pastoral Care; Nursing; Social Work; Rehabilitation; Mental Health.
His final two main chapters are spent outlining a model curriculum for including religion and spirituality in medical training, followed by an overview of beliefs and practice found in world religions. These chapters are helpful not only for medical schools but particularly for staff development and inservice training in medical facilities. Ongoing conversation is needed to develop the ability of all health practioners to address these issues effectively with patients and their families. The failure to do so can hinder the ability of patients to develop a relationship of trust with their medical team and to make full use of these resources for their progress toward wholeness.
I highly recommend this book for medical practioners as well as clergy and other religious professionals and lay leaders who function in healthcare settings or interact regularly with people in matters of their health. Below are links to chapter summary notes for use in a book club or other study.
Spirituality in Patient Care – Overview & Intro
Spirituality in Patient Care – Chapter 1
Spirituality in Patient Care – Chapter 2
Spirituality in Patient Care – Chapter 3
Spirituality in Patient Care – Chapter 4
(Other notes coming soon)