Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Spirituality and Health —Would You Talk to Your Doctor About God?

According to a report published in a journal by the American Academy of Family Physicians, there are mounting studies that show a positive association between commitment to a spiritual or religious path and health. There are some dissenting opinions on this, but 84% of the studies done at the time of this report showed that religious commitment is helpful in preventing illness, coping with a current condition, and in recovery from an illness. There have also been studies done about the effect of prayer. One review of 131 controlled trials found that 58% of those trials showed that prayer had a statistically significant beneficial effect on specific health outcomes.

Not surprisingly only 10 to 20 percent of physicians actually include the topic of spirituality in discussions with their patients; yet, up to 77 percent of patients would like to be able to talk about spirituality as part of their medical care. The journal was trying to convince doctors to do so. They even included a list of 6-20 questions doctors should include in a "spiritual assessment" as part of a patient's medical care.

I looked at the questions on this list and realized, very few doctors I've ever met have taken the time to ask me 20 questions of any kind. Depending on what source you believe, the average length of time a doctor typically spends with a patient is between 10-18 minutes. I'm sure most people would rather their doctor spent more time talking with them than the time they waste sitting in the waiting room but does it really make sense to make them include a list of spiritually-oriented questions in order to provide adequate care? I mean, while I might talk to a minister or spiritual adviser about various issues in regards to health, I wouldn't expect them to give me a medical diagnosis. Does it really make sense to see a medical professional about matters related to God?

Just playing Devil's Advocate here, actually. I think issues of spirituality ARE significant in regards to health care and it's about time the medical profession was taught to take it seriously. But speaking as a spiritual counseling professional here, I wish they'd hire people like me and Paul to work with patients in regards to spirituality instead of adding yet another thing to a busy family physician's plate.

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