Discussing Spirituality With Your Doctor
Spirituality is often not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of going to the doctor’s office. But until the modern age, healthcare and spirituality were inextricably connected. While for some people this is still the case, for the most part, Western healthcare has become primarily focused on physical health, abandoning the notion that spirituality is an important aspect of health. This focus may not bother some, but for highly spiritual people, it is a disservice at best and a health risk at worst. How can you fully address your needs and concerns if your doctor does not take a comprehensive view of your health?
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The Importance of Spirituality
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being.” In other words, it’s more than just the absence of disease or treating symptoms. WHO also outlines four dimensions of health: physical, social, mental, and spiritual health. From relationships with others to your emotions, health encompasses everything in life that affects wellness — including spirituality.
Much like a fingerprint or signature, spirituality is unique to each individual. For some, it may mean being part of an organized religion and attending regular services, while for others, it may take the form of a mindfulness practice or even spending time in nature. There is no wrong way to be spiritual, as long as it is authentic to you and your beliefs.
Spirituality is difficult to define, as it’s closely related to the ephemeral and intangible. However, it is connected to other aspects of your health. Often, it includes grappling with large questions of purpose and existence, what constitutes your own moral code, and what makes us human. These intense ideas can have a great effect on mental, emotional, and even physical well-being, making it an important dimension of health worthy of attention.
The Struggle for Sincerity
Spirituality is highly personal. Just as you have your own beliefs about spirit, faith, or religion, so does your doctor. However, they might not always align with yours. The University of Nevada, Reno notes that “while not all scientists are atheists, the scientific and healthcare community in the U.S. tends to be less religious than the community at large.”
This doesn’t mean all doctors, or even your doctor, have no understanding of spirituality, religion, or faith. It just might be difficult for you to open up to others about your beliefs if you fear they may not understand you or take you seriously — and many people have difficulties communicating with their doctor without the question of spiritual health on the table.
The Need for Understanding
However, there is an increasing movement to incorporate spiritual care into routine medical practice. Dr. Christina Puchalski, an expert on spiritual health, recommends the following for healthcare providers looking to improve spiritual patient care:
- “Patients should be screened for spiritual needs quickly after entering the healthcare system.
- Healthcare professionals should be trained to recognize symptoms of spiritual distress.
- Spiritual screenings should be documented in the patient’s medical file.
- A chaplain should be called to follow through on spiritual requests.”
Though some healthcare professionals may be working on incorporating these practices into their patient care, this is far from the standard. You must be ready to stand up for yourself and advocate for your needs. Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind when you head to your next doctor’s appointment: Know what you want to say before heading into the office. It’s easier to steer the conversation if you already know what you want to discuss with your doctor.
- Stand up for yourself. Doctors often have busy schedules, but you are their patient. Your appointment is your time to discuss your needs and concerns.
- Abandon your fears. It’s easy to feel intimidated or like you’re being too pushy, but your spiritual health is too important to risk. Stay focused and committed.
Discussions about spirituality are not always the easiest to have — especially with your doctor — but they are necessary to maintain your health, well-being and happiness. A healthy spirit is simply part of living a healthy life, and it’s worth treating it as seriously as your physical health.
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