South Florida Hospital News
Tuesday September 17, 2019
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December 2007 - Volume 4 - Issue 6

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Healthcare and the Spiritual Dimension

Working as a chaplain in the healthcare profession I have encountered a whole range of approaches to spirituality as it relates to the realities of life, health, sickness and death. It is the healthcare professional who regularly sees the stress and suffering of patients, families and friends as they come to terms with injury, illness and death. It is to healthcare professionals that these patients and their loved ones often turn for strength and encouragement. This is when healthcare providers draw on their own spirituality – whether they realize it or not.

Part of my work as a chaplain is learning to understand the unique spirituality of each individual for whom it is my role to provide comfort and guidance. My years as a chaplain and priest have taught me that all people, even self-described atheists, have their own highly personal approach to spirituality, based upon how they view God and the ultimate meaning of existence. I think it would be most worthwhile for healthcare professionals to consider and explore how that approach to spirituality – on the part of both patient and caregiver – affects health and happiness. Whether one views God as loving and forgiving or judgmental and punishing; close and receptive or distant and remote or even nonexistent; this affects one’s physical, mental and spiritual state, including one’s attitude towards and experience of death.

I find it instructive that recent empirical studies indicate the efficacy of prayer in recovery from illness. In one study, for example, a group of patients were told they were being prayed for, as indeed they were. A second group was also told that people were praying for them, but no one was. You see where this is going: the first group "won."

I am encouraged that recently there has been movement by professional caregivers to learn more about spiritual care by accompanying chaplains on patient visits, as well as by attending conferences on the spiritual aspects of healthcare. These efforts appear to be helping the healthcare professionals to be more in tune with the needs of their patients and their families, while, at the same time, enriching and expanding their own spiritual lives.

In my ideal world, chaplains and other spiritual counselors would be fully integrated members of a holistic healthcare approach that looked at the person spiritually as well as physically and mentally; with the chaplain speaking for the spiritual side just as the doctor and nurses spoke for the physical side and the psychotherapist spoke for the psychological side. Such a system is in place at Douglas Gardens Hospice, where integrating spirituality and healthcare is an important part of our caregiving approach, and I believe in it.

I am also a great believer in the power of touch as a spiritual and therapeutic tool. As the holiday season approaches, my mind and heart are turned to those who need to be touched, loved and cared for. This is a wonderful time of year to open ourselves to the spiritual realm within each of us – however we may perceive spirituality – by giving comfort to someone who really needs it, either by speaking to them or by touch or both. As a hospice chaplain I know that it is often through such modest means as touch, reassurance, conversation, prayer, or just our simple presence, that we are able to help those who are in distress and spiritually vulnerable to experience the peace which soothes the soul and allows genuine understanding to take root.

Happy Holidays!

Father Carl Collins, Chaplain, Douglas Gardens Hospice, Miami Jewish Home and Hospital, can be reached at ccollins@mjhha.org.
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