Spiritual Needs

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Simple Steps to Enhance Well-Being and Manage Spiritual Needs

Reference: Advance for Speech Language Pathologists & Audiologists May 20, 2002, p. 20-21


After years of heavy burdens and heartbreak, a 70 year-old woman is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  In the face of death, she is the happiest she has ever been.  I know because this woman is my mother.

After her diagnosis in the fall of 2000, my mother turned back to her faith in God and to the love of her family.  As her health care managed her body and mind, she managed her soul.  She has survived her prognosis and believes the power of prayer and faith has carried her to this day.

Spirituality and holistic care are valuable approaches to managing our patients' well being, and we need to understand our responsibilities in this area of practice.  As health care providers, we address the physical, mental and emotional needs of our patients but rarely do we address their spiritual needs. Although spiritual discussion between patients and providers once was frowned upon, this should no longer be the case.  Spiritual well-being enhances physical, mental and emotional well-being, which means that the spiritual should be as much our concern as the physical.

Allied health professionals are advocates for their patients, spending intimate time with them and communicating a sincere commitment to learning what they need and how those needs will be met.  Addressing the spiritual needs of patients is an important element of care and may provide added value and enrichment to the holistic practitioner-patient interaction.

"Holistic" is defined as an integral structure of body, mind and soul.  A 1994 study identified the basic principles of holistic health that guide the work of practitioners.  The study identified 17 principles, with spirituality the most strongly emphasized. Holism involves treating the whole person while considering the unity of body, mind and spirituality.  The unity relates to a patient's connection to a higher power.

Every person has a natural inclination toward spirituality.  At least once we all ask ourselves what life means to us.  As we age, we face the issue of our own mortality.  Health care professionals need to develop goals to assess spiritual connection and be aware that many elements impact healing, including some we can't imagine.  As patients communicate their spiritual needs, we are responsible for assisting them to meet these needs.

Research is growing in the area of spirituality and how it relates to health care.  In a recent poll, 60 percent of the patients surveyed said they support the idea of physicians talking about spiritual health.  In the same poll however, only 10 percent of the physicians reported having approached patients with such discussions.

A relationship with a patient begins the moment you gather the general history.  This relationship can go one step further by incorporating spiritual history into the process.  Information about a patient's spiritual history reveals deeper aspects of who our patients are and what they believe and value in their lives.  Managing the spiritual needs of patients require us to know what those needs involve and to collaborate with others to meet them.

Table 1

Spiritual Interventions

Refer to clergy
Be an active listener
Therapeutic communications
Convey acceptance and respect
Instill hope
Be present
Refer to community/health care resources

Advance for Speech Language Pathologists & Audiologists May 20, 2002

For Full Article reprint call Merion Publications, Inc., at 1-800-355-5627 ext. 1446




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