4 min|Dr. Jam Caleda
In The Spirit of MedicineWellness
I had a conversation yesterday that quickly became one of the touchstone experiences that may reverberate in my trunk of philosophical thoughts. It started with the pondering of the collective spirituality of people, which inevitably evolved into trying to define the intrinsic nature of these practices. Dialogues of this ilk, when stimulated to a certain threshold, always lead to the question of “why?”
I think spirituality may be built into the infrastructure of the human collective
A demographic study done in 2012, conducted by the Pew Research Center, published an article that revealed a curious statistic. The study was a comprehensive survey of more than 230 countries, which estimated that there may be as much as 5.8 billion people who are affiliated to a spiritual practice. In 2010 this represented 84% of the world’s population (1).
What is it about the human brain that creates space for an unquantifiable experience? Furthermore, what role does it play in allowing humans to be humans? These questions are the quest of many texts that were heavy enough to be used to reduce a ganglion cyst, but for the purposes of our limited discussion, and the respect of your time I would like to explore the idea of spirituality and medicine.
Does spirituality have a role in medicine?
There is a growing body of supporting evidence showing the significance of addressing a patient’s spiritual believes in providing high quality holistic care. A study that explored this idea, conducted in 2003 in the United States, showed that “70% of patients would welcome physician inquiry into their religious beliefs, 55% would appreciate silent prayer, and 50% believe their physician should pray with them“ (2).
Contextually this represents a space for a spiritual basis in the nature of healing practices. This is not to say that physicians should initiate religious discussions with patients, however it may be appropriate to have ways of understanding how to a person’s own belief system may play a role in their comfort in healthcare.Religion may not only benefit patients and support holistic treatments, but may also have a significant impact on a physician’s health.
An in-depth, qualitative study explored practicing physicians’ views regarding spirituality in their own practices. There was a diversity of personal spiritual beliefs that were acknowledged in the study, but analysis revealed a theme of compassion (3). Physicians value compassion, and inherent natures of spiritual practice employ this idea as a core tenant. This may play a role in preventing doctor burnout. Mindfulness practices also help as stress management tools for docs, allowing a more successful and effective practice for patient-centered treatment.
There may be numerous medical contexts in which spirituality has a significant impact. When employed within patient preference, it can be considered as a method of compassionate care, allowing a more comfortable and cognitively easing experience for dealing with serious health issues. Research has also showed efficacy in mindfulness practice and the reduction of chronic pain, particularly in those suffering migraines (4).
As previously discussed in older posts, we explored the idea that meditation, and other forms of spiritual practice, may act as preventative measures for cancer, probably in the way that spirituality allows for more appropriate coping mechanisms of stress. Other ways that spirituality has been studied and showed significant efficacy above placebo is in psychiatry, substance abuse, and chronic disease management such as cardiovascular disease.
What does religion and spirituality bring to the table?
Having a tribe is an important aspect to health. Religious groups may offer this type of setting for those who practice. It allows support from communities, in financial, social, and personal ways. These may be better coping mechanisms, preventative measures, and collective awareness for certain diseases that can benefit the larger community.
The idea that religion or spirituality may play a role in healthcare is a controversial subject, particularly because the ways to quantify the effects are difficult and highly subjective in nature. But there is much evidence that shows it does have a role in providing compassionate treatment in holistic and integrative care.
As far as we know, we may be the only entities on earth with the intrinsic space for spirituality, and I think that in itself may be enough to be open minded and compassionate to the idea of spirituality in medical practices.
- MacLean CD, Susi B, Phifer N, et al. Patient preference for physician discussion and practice of spirituality. J Gen Intern Med 2003; 18:38–43.