Sharon Ufberg, DC examines the need for practitioners and patients to discuss spirituality in their daily practice and lives, in an effort to become more “patient-centered”.

by Sharon Ufberg, DC

Why does it require a life threatening diagnosis for a practitioner to talk about spirituality to a patient? As I read the latest studies around the issue of faith and healing (not faith healing-different topic), I am always struck by the lack of interest the researchers and practitioners have about the idea that all patients may benefit from their practitioner opening up the conversation about their spiritual rituals and beliefs. Just asking the question, “Do you have a regular spiritual practice?” is often enough to engage in a dialogue that greatly enhances the healing encounter.

A study, lead by psychologist Jean Kristeller of Indiana State University, recognizes the importance of making each encounter between patient and practitioner “patient centered,” as it improves both the satisfaction of the patient and the chances of a positive outcome. So you may ask, what makes for a “patient centered” visit? Apparently it has a lot to do with the practitioner asking questions and then sitting quietly and listening to the answers. Kristellers’ initial surveys show promising results. Those patients that experienced this open ended dialogue during their appointment reported a greater sense that their practitioner cared about them, had reduced feelings of depression and an improved quality of life. Those surveyed were cancer patients and 75% of them felt the questions about their spirituality were very helpful.

But the reports I have read leave me wondering, why must we wait until a patient is suffering a life threatening illness to discuss spirituality? While the scientists, physicians and theologians endlessly debate the “faith factor” in Research Institutes and Centers cropping up all over the country (many at top Universities), publish books and create websites, we as practitioners have the ability to jump in and start the conversation within our individual practices.

The universal equalizer of all varieties of faith is prayer. Prayer is the element of religious life that connects our spiritual life with our physical health. Communal prayer often, if not always, contains a moment or two for the group to pray for those in need of healing. Specific names of members of the community that are ill are spoken aloud so that the healing prayers of the group may be directed toward them.

What the studies have shown is that for those that have a faith-based philosophy of life, knowing others are praying for their health makes a difference. Following this theory then, wouldn’t the patient also benefit from their healthcare practitioner talking to them about this same faith?

I was recently in the company of a family with a very strong, in your face, spirituality. I was suffering from a simple cold but had all the annoying symptoms of watery eyes, runny nose and sore throat. At the end of my evening, Hazel, the eldest sister and wise woman of the family came over to me, held me with both hands, looked directly into my eyes and said, “Sharon, I am going to pray for you tonight. I am going to pray for your healing and I will continue to keep you in my prayers every day to be healthy and stay well.”

The next day when I woke up my cold was completely gone. I mean, TOTALLY disappeared. Not a trace of congestion or discomfort. It did not register until later in the day that Hazel’s prayers had made a powerful connection with me. Whether it was a connection to the part of my brain that triggers bodily functions to heal or my spiritual energy made no difference to me. I felt better.

So again I ask, why not open the door to connect your patient’s health and well being to their spiritual life? One or two questions from a thoughtful practitioner could make all the difference in enhancing the natural intersection of faith and healing.

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