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Spirituality In The Healthcare Debate

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Dr. Ernest Levister, Jr.
Dear Dr. Levister: There’s a lot of talk about healthcare reform but I haven’t seen anything about the health benefits of spirituality. Are we missing the boat? K.W.

Dear K.W.: While I can’t speak for what’s in President Obama’s proposed health care plan, both medical science and cultural trends have recently focused attention on the connection between the mind, body, and spirit. Spirituality involves an aspect of human experience that researchers are  increasingly interested in, because of its potential benefits to physical health.

People who embrace a spiritual practice are more likely to live a healthier physical life.

Medical studies have shown that spiritual people exhibit fewer self-destructive behaviors (drug use, smoking, alcohol abuse), increased self esteem, and greater personal satisfaction.

Although spirituality has been shown to reduce depression, improve blood pressure, and boost the immune system, religious beliefs should not interfere with your medical care.

Some researchers agree that positive beliefs, peace and strength gained from spirituality, meditation and prayer can contribute to a sense of wellbeing and healing. Many people find spirituality through religion.

Some find it through music, dance, art or a connection with nature. Others find it in their values and principles. In healthcare, spirituality is identified with experiencing a  deep-seated sense of meaning and purpose in life, together with a sense of belonging.

Improving your spiritual health may not cure an illness, but it may help you feel better, prevent some health problems and help you cope with illness or death. People have used prayer and other spiritual practices for their own and others’ health concerns for thousands of years. Still, despite the scientific evidence pointing to the effectiveness of prayer, it is not generally accepted as a treatment method by the Western medical community.

Spiritual care is a vital component of the holistic care process. While doctors are usually very good at taking care of one’s physical needs, your desire for spiritual comfort is often neglected. Acknowledging the importance of your spiritual or religious beliefs and addressing them, even briefly, with your health care providers may help you to attain and maintain optimum health while stimulating cooler heads in the healthcare debate.

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