Since 1998, the World Health Organization has been lobbying to include the word ‘spiritual’ in its description of overall health and wellness. The inclusion of the word ‘spiritual’ with ‘wellness’ is becoming more prevalent in modern definitions of wellness – such as those of the U.S.-based National Wellness Institute – where spiritual wellness is a standard component as one of
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Since 1998, the World Health Organization has been lobbying to include the word ‘spiritual’ in its description of overall health and wellness.
The inclusion of the word ‘spiritual’ with ‘wellness’ is becoming more prevalent in modern definitions of wellness – such as those of the U.S.-based National Wellness Institute – where spiritual wellness is a standard component as one of the six dimensions of wellness (including also emotional, occupational, social, intellectual and physical). Spiritual wellness impacts our life in a way that it encourages not only peace and harmony within us, but also our capacity to show love, compassion and forgiveness.
A common and universal source of spiritual wellness may have something to do with this ancient wisdom from the prophet Isaiah 26:3 “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.”
There is also increased interest in finding ways to study and research the impact spirituality has on health.
A Wall Street Journal’s Health Blog reported that, “In recent years, a growing body of research investigating the relationship between religion, spirituality and health has led to a number of evidence-based guidelines for spiritual care and tools to help hospitals provide it…”
Laura Landro, author of this WSJ blog, tells us that, “Experts say attending to one’s spirituality—be it with yoga, prayer, meditation, music or putting others first—may help turn spiritual struggle into an opportunity for growth.”
In a recently unveiled plan, the province of Manitoba has taken steps to be a leader in spiritual health care. The report, ‘Health and the Human Spirit: Shaping the Direction of Spiritual Health Care’ recognizes that spirituality is essential to wellness.
The intent of the new plan is to advance the concept beyond its beginnings as a chaplaincy type of coordination and standardization service and to try to promote a broader sense of spiritual care. The inclusion of the word “health” in the label “spiritual health care” conveys a sense that the intent of this plan is beyond just coping or helping people grieve, and includes helping them heal.
At the launch of this new strategic plan, Manitoba Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau said: “The reason we moved forward with this strategic plan is that we looked at the practice of health care and realized that what we had to do was focus on the entire person – which is the body, the mind, relationships and spirituality.”
Rondeau expects the end result will be improved health outcomes and reduced cost to the system. “Research has shown that higher levels of spiritual well being, along with a sense of inner meaning and inner peace, are associated with better health outcomes, lower levels of depression and anxiety, and a better quality of life”, according to the plan.
The Canadian Association for Spiritual Care (CASC) is a nongovernmental multi-faith organization that provides training for spiritual care providers albeit with more of a pastoral care focus. However, Doug Kellough, president of the Association says, “While many may perceive spiritual health care as inextricably linked to religion, proponents say it is more accurately related to the patients overall spiritual well being”.
Saskatchewan is also in the process of proposing a similar framework in their provincial health care plan that recognizes spiritual health as an important component in the provision of individual’s overall health care.
Scientists who research the correlation between spirituality and health maintain that, while studies are difficult to conduct, they are important. And, sufficient studies have been done around the world to give health care systems a glimpse of the potential benefits to incorporating spiritual care. That’s why teams of health care professionals in hospitals – physicians, nurses, social workers and others –increasingly include a spiritual care provider, usually described as a chaplain.
Dr. Linda Emanuel researcher at Northwestern University School of Medicine notes in an article she penned for the Washington Post, “During the enthusiasm for all things scientific, the role of spirituality in illness was dismissed as subjective and lacking in hard data. Yet, we can define spirituality in words. We can feel it. So why does something so powerful have such poor evidence?”
Perhaps because things that are tied to our very essence are not only hard to talk about but also hard to study. And, medical research systems are built around empirical – what we can see – evidence, while spiritual well being is more often felt. Still, it can produce actual, practical health outcomes, and these should be acknowledged.
Dr. Emanuel appreciates the role of a spiritual care provider in health care as she writes: “people often feel spiritually abandoned while in the arms of medical care. The role of spiritual care provider would bring a needed dimension to assessing and providing for the needs of the patient.”
In an environment where provinces and hospitals are looking to cut both costs and programs that might not fit into mainstream medicine, spirituality in health care needs to have more opportunity to show evidence of its benefits. And with programs like Manitoba’s and the burgeoning ones in other provinces, there will be more opportunities for physicians and patients to experience this ‘whole person’ approach, and document its benefits.
There is, of course, existing evidence of the role spirituality can plan in healing disease. For example, in my Bible-based approach to treating disease, there are documented healings of things such as cancer, a blood clot, and chronic fatigue.
The very act of including a spiritual dimension in one’s health care offers the patient the opportunity to choose to acknowledge a higher power in the healing journey. The result – a greater sense of peace and harmony. What a healthy prescription!