Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
October 8, 2001
Spirituality key to health care
Theologian urges 'dialogue' among patients, health care practitioners
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Health care practitioners, administrators and patients must deepen their dialogue about the interaction between health care and spirituality, says a Catholic theologian from Chicago.
John Shea says the interest in the spiritual continues to grow and hospitals must develop a culture that nurtures and develops spirituality.
In a hospital, the spiritual coexists with multiple other interests but is not subservient to any of them; it's a companion, he said.
"If a health care organization is encouraging these spiritual interests, it must have policies and structures that are friendly to the spiritual," he said. It must also extend its spiritual openness to all employees and associates.
Shea, advocate health care senior scholar in residence at Park Ridge Centre for the Study of Health, Faith and Ethics and a professor at Loyola University in Chicago, was the guest speaker at the 58th annual convention of the Catholic Health Care Association of Alberta and Affiliates.
Some 140 administrators and leaders of faith-based facilities from across the province attended the event at Delta Hotel Sept. 27-28.
Other convention speakers included the Rev. Don McLeod, who has served on the board of Calgary's Bethany Care Society, and Rebecca Davis-Mathias, a professor of Christian ethics at St. Joseph's University College.
Shea, the author of nine books on spirituality, including Spirituality and Health Care: Reaching Toward a Holistic Future, advocates patients, health care workers and hospital administrators deepen their dialogue about the interplay between spirituality and modern medicine.
Out of spirituality arises hope, he says. "Spirituality forces us to move into a deeper level of life to handle what is happening."
We are all "patients in waiting," contends the scholar. And being a patient pushes our awareness towards the spiritual.
"Sickness is a chaotic event on all levels, disturbing physical, psychological, social and spiritual equilibrium. Yet in many situations, the spiritual disturbance is an invitation to growth, a challenge to greater spiritual realization."
According to Shea, patients are interested in spirituality because it helps them deal with limits and loss and medical caregivers are interested in patient spirituality because they value holistic approaches and recognize that the spiritual may have beneficial effects on bodily and mental health.
Often, however, medical caregivers don't know how to access the spirit and end up wanting out.
What they want, Shea said, is a chance to develop their own spirituality in order to maintain their own sense of vocation.
"They want a vocational renewal that will happen in the middle of their work, in their relationships with staff and patients," he said. "The same situations that drain them can become the situations that inspire them."
He said a health care organization that is committed to delivering holistic care - a care that encompasses the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of being human - should also be interested in the physical, mental, social and spiritual health of its employees.
"It would be contradictory to try to deliver spiritual care in a spiritually uncaring environment, to try to give to others what has not being given to you."
In and of itself an organization cannot create people's spiritual beliefs and spiritual sensitivity. "But it can be supportive of the resources that a person brings to work," Shea says. "It can cultivate and elicit the spiritual consciousness that is already there."
The theologian also spoke of the need for a "working knowledge" of the spiritual that provides direction for development.
"Attending to the spiritual entails going to the soul space, opening both the eye that looks into the Spirit and the eye that looks into the world, and learning how to receive and give Spirit," he wrote in his book Spirituality and Health Care.
As Shea sees it, people in touch with the spiritual are "more excellent" in every way. "They embody the values that are essential to medicine and healing in an easy and creative way, a way appropriate to the gracefulness of the spiritual."
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