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Monday, March 2, 2009

The Role of Religious Beliefs in Health Care

FROM RABBI RICHARD ADDRESS, UNION FOR REFORM JUDAISM: Some of us may remember the Time magazine cover from the mid-1960s that announced, in rather bold terms, that God was dead. That came as a rude shock to many of my friends and myself, as some of us had planned to enter the clergy and were left to wonder if there was going to be a need for our services. Thankfully, we decided to press on and things never got as dire as the magazine had predicted.
Time does change things, as does Time, for last week's cover package went into great depth on “How Faith Can Heal.” The articles report on several scientific studies on the power of prayer and the spiritual component in healing. One of the more interesting aspects of the articles is a section that highlights the work of Jean Kristeller, a psychologist at Indiana State University who developed a guide for doctors that helps them speak with patients (specifically cancer patients) about spiritual concerns. Her findings seemed to indicate that having a discussion about religious or spiritual beliefs with their physicians actually reduced stress and feelings of depression in patients and brought forth “an improved quality of life and a greater sense that their doctors cared for them.”
Is this for everyone? Maybe not. However, I think it does open up the possibility of developing opportunities for physicians and patients to engage in some powerful discussions about patients’ hopes and dreams and fears. Many religious traditions understand that the link between the mind and the body and the spirit is profound and that treating one without understanding the role of the others can limit success. My own movement has created a sample "spiritual history" form (included in the book To Honor and Respect) as part of our Sacred Aging project. It is a simple guide for people to follow in order to list some of their spiritual and religious beliefs that could impact their own healing process.
The science of healing, as we know, is not exact and is impacted by many nonmedical variables. Perhaps it is time to explore, in a more organized fashion, the role of faith in that healing process.