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The Disconnect of Health, Religion, and Spirituality

When is the last time your physician asked you how your spiritual and/or religious health was?

As a naturopathic doctor, it’s something we were taught to consider from day one of our client’s health history intake and onward. Yet, this isn’t a typical inquiry for conventional medicine.

The connection between the body and spirit has been acknowledged for centuries, but this concept fell out of favor in modern medicine, and it was replaced by mechanistic theories and biological and physical treatments. In a commentary describing the history of the field of spirituality and health, the authors state:

Spirituality has played a role in health care for centuries, but by the early 20th century, technological advances in diagnosis and treatment overshadowed the more human element of medicine. In response, a core group of medical academics and practitioners launched a movement to reclaim medicine’s spiritual roots, defining spirituality broadly as a search for meaning, purpose, and connectedness.

Thankfully, it is now becoming clear to physicians that the lack of inclusion of spirituality and religion in healthcare and psychiatry is not serving their patients to obtain their highest level of healing.

Previously, I reviewed the concept of spirituality and religion and began my discussion on why I believe they are vital to the health of healthcare. Addressing the aspect of the distress and “soul-craving” for meaning is imperative in the therapeutic response.

In this article, I go into more details on the connection between spirituality, religion, and health. By the conclusion, I hope you will agree that even if one isn’t “religiously affiliated” or “spiritual”, nurturing the soul and supporting one’s purpose is a powerful type of medicine.

The Importance of the Mind-Body-Soul Connection

The tides appear to be turning back toward incorporating a soul-oriented aspect into medicine. Slowly, doctors are moving more toward an inclusive, personalized approach, including embracing methods to enhance vitalism, one’s innate healing potential.

As stated in the article Healing, Spirituality, and Integrative Medicine:

Our role as healthcare providers is to alleviate suffering that does not serve the patient and to facilitate personal growth even in the face of their potential mortality. While our traditional means of supporting patients in Western healthcare depend upon verbal, cognitive, and behavioral methods, many of our patients are too ill or despondent to effectively engage in that process. Pharmacologic approaches to address affective states may address the symptoms, i.e., we treat delirium with drugs; however, drugs rarely get at the root causes of the distress. Integrative modalities typically do not depend upon verbal capacity or level of consciousness or even physical proximity to the patient in the case of intercessory prayer (18), although the weight of evidence for its effect remains contested (19). According to a contemporary Hmong shaman, “supporting the human spirit allows the body to accept Western medicine more effectively” (personal communication with Master Jenee Liusongyaj, Sacramento, CA, 2013). Integrative modalities are thought to support the human spirit in ways that we may not be able to achieve with conventional allopathic approaches. Thus, the inclusion of integrative medicine in clinical practice is potentially beneficial for healthcare maintenance or end of life care, for adult and pediatric patients (20). (source)

As more attention and a rise in the popularity and benefits of whole-person medicine continues to gain traction, it is making its way into mainstream medical systems as well. According to a 2018 article published in Cureus:

The landscape of medicine in the United States has been slowly progressing toward a more holistic and individualized approach to healing. Part of this progress has been the integration between western and alternative forms of medicine, a concept that has been described as “integrative medicine.” This approach to healthcare incorporates a patient’s mind, spirituality, and sense of community into the healing process. Integrative medicine has been typically well received and the demand has been steadily increasing in primary US hospitals. (source)

Unfortunately, barriers to fully integrating spirituality and religion into patient care still need to be overcome. Although many may feel the main obstacle is based on physicians’ and administrations’ hesitancy, patients themselves are also leery to express their preferences for holistic modalities. This is likely because they fear their doctor’s disapproval of using these techniques. (source, source) Yet, as noted above, this may not be so much the case today.

Why Spirituality and Religion Belong in Medicine

In one review of religion (R) and spirituality (S), why we should pay more attention to them in healthcare is discussed. The author states that integrating spirituality into healthcare is important for eight powerful reasons:

  1. Many patients have unmet spiritual needs that can adversely affect health and increase mortality. This is independent of physical, mental, and social health.
  2. It helps patients cope with their illness.
  3. R/S beliefs can conflict with medical treatments and effect patients’ compliance.
  4. Physicians’ views on R/S can affect treatment decisions and these should be more transparent to patients so they can make more informed choices.
  5. The effect of R/S on medical outcomes due to associations with mental and physical health.
  6. R/S influences care received at home.
  7. … research shows that failure to address patients’ spiritual needs increases health care costs, especially toward the end of life [592].”
  8. “…standards set by the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Hospital Organizations (JCAHO) and by Medicare (in the US) require that providers of health care show respect for patients’ cultural and personal values, beliefs, and preferences (including religious or spiritual beliefs) [593].”

Conclusion: The Power of Beliefs and Medical Outcomes

I have just summarized why spirituality and religion are influential in healthcare. Not only is the mind and body intimately linked, our spirit and our views about meaning, purpose, and interconnectedness impact our health in impressive ways.

This topic is well-connected to our previous discussions on:

(1) How our beliefs and mindset impact our wellness outcomes.

(2) How a therapeutic relationship with a physician is also a vital component to healing and should be considered.

It will take a united front of patients and doctors if we are going to fully integrate and holistically transform sick care into a form of healthcare that incorporates the mind, body, and spirit.

Let’s start advocating for this now… the more we speak up, the quicker change can occur.

Perhaps you can start by simply mentioning your beliefs and practices to your doctor at your next checkup?

What do you think?

Feel free to comment below.

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Coming Up….

In my conclusion to this series, I will start 2022 discussing how mental and physical health are impacted by spirituality and spiritual coping and how essential oils can enhance spiritual connections.

In the meantime, have a beautiful end to 2021 and happy 2022!

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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)

This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.

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