By Don Ingwerson
Two years ago a friend mentioned that her daughter was appointed as a chaplain in a nearby hospital. I remember at the time contacting her and asking if any materials were needed to share with patients. I don’t recall her response, but I got the sense from her that religious activities were not an integral part of the hospital’s operation. Instead, they were more of a support service – available upon call with a small office and maybe a small room for prayer. Wow, did I reach the wrong conclusion!
Recently, there has been much consideration given to the relationship between religion, spirituality, and health. Like all new areas of development, some wish to move forward with little supportive evidence while others wish to only refine what might be acceptable in their own field. However, a new breath of fresh air is blowing and individuals from all sides of this issue – connecting religion, spirit, and health – are looking into methods to treat the whole man.
Treating the whole man is what the GWish and the John Templeton Foundation are working toward. Gwish, or George Washington University’s Institute for Spirituality and Health, is currently overseeing a National Spiritual Care Demonstration Project at nine academic medical centers – with one at UCLA in Los Angeles, California. These pilot sites are testing and developing tools that may be used to make judgments about quality of care while applying alternative and traditional western medicine in healing the whole man. According to the Wall Street Journal, John Templeton Foundation, which funds research into such issues that intersect science and spirituality, recently awarded a three-year, $3 million grant to the New York-based Health Care Chaplaincy. This organization will use this grant to select and fund half a dozen national research projects to advance and test models for chaplaincy practice, especially in palliative care for the most seriously ill patients.
Quality of care is not the only concern for hospitals, though. With present health care costs continually rising, hospital administrators, doctors, and nurses are trying to find ways to contain expenses while still providing programs that are beneficial to the patient. Adding new programs in an already expensive arena means that the chaplaincy program will need to provide solid evidence of its benefits. “There is research to support that what chaplains do helps, but we really need to see more of it,” stated Emanuel Chirico, Chief executive of apparel maker PVH Corp, and trustee at the Health Care Chaplaincy.
The discussion of care and treating the whole man is becoming more vocal in the medical arena, which is leading to more receptivity toward chaplain work and spirituality in hospitals. “Physicians, meanwhile, need to stop focusing solely on medical cures and consider the needs of the “whole person,” says Linda Lee, clinical director of the integrative medicine and digestive center at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.”
This documented, well financed, and professionally led effort by GWish to focus on the whole man through the development of a team approach has great potential as it is designed to use the best practices in the spiritual and medical fields. Spiritual leader Mary Baker Eddy wrote in the 1800’s, “The prayer that reforms the sinner and heals the sick is an absolute faith that all things are possible to God, – a spiritual understanding of Him, an unselfed love….Prayer, watching, and working, combined with self-immolation, are God’s gracious means for accomplishing whatever has successfully done for the Christianization and health of mankind.”
Having served as a visiting chaplain in California institutions and feeling isolated from the institution’s leadership, I can appreciate the foundation this pilot program will give for the development of a more balanced use of alternative medicines as well as traditional western medicine. According to studies, the most commonly used alternative is prayer. Having a well organized chaplaincy program integrated into the health team can allow for a view with consideration of the whole man – which includes spiritual aspects – in treating health concerns.
Article previously published January 9, 2012 and first published in Blogcritics.