Chaplain Peter Jupin
From Chaplain Peter Jupin
No topic speaks more to the heart of many physicians than the role of faith and spirituality in daily medical practice. The problem, however, for generations of physicians is that medicine, as a science driven by advanced technologies and evidence-based research and methodologies, has had little time or tolerance for such “soft science.” In the past, to acknowledge the element of mystery that surrounds all healing, recovery and death was to invite the ridicule of colleagues and devalue one’s commitment to the hard realities of how the human body works.
All this has changed in recent years, however, as physicians have come to understand and accept that the unanswered questions and mystery of medical practice can be legitimately entertained without compromising professional standards. The great power of the mind and spirit to enhance coping and influence physiological healing has become mainstay thought, and one is hard-pressed to pick up a professional journal without noticing more and more compelling research. (1) (2) (3)
What is the origin of this newfound interest in the body-mind-spirit paradigm? Perhaps it’s NOT that new. Since ancient times, the healers of the tribe or community were the priests, shamans or holy men and women who mediated the relationship between the “patient” and God or the prevailing gods of the culture. Sickness and illness were seen as a disruption or disturbance in the relationship between the individual and God that had to be remedied or the patient would decline and die. Illness, sickness and disease were seen first and foremost as spiritual crises, and medicine, therefore, was a spiritual practice. The role of the healer was to facilitate the restoration of the “right relationship” between man and God, and to assist the patient in regaining a proper balance between body and spirit.
Most physicians understand this dynamic intuitively but may be uncertain of how to integrate spirituality into the daily routine of assessment, evaluation and intervention. For many patients, pain and suffering is clearly a crisis of faith, as he or she struggles to find meaning and hope in the otherwise incomprehensible misery of their condition. In spiritual distress, they ask many familiar questions, questions which are not necessarily to be answered, but heard:
Why is this happening to me? Why now? (Frankl, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” 1946)
Where is God in my suffering?
What kind of God would allow this to happen?
Why do bad things happen to good people? (Kushner, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” 1981)
What am I called to do now?
Who am I called to be?
The only way to truly hear these questions and become a non-anxious presence for our patients is be mindful of our own spiritual heritage and the rich reality of our own spiritual lives. Henri Nouwen, in his classic, “The Wounded Healer,” proposed that we are all wounded in some fashion by life – physically, emotionally, spiritually – and we must first address our own “woundedness” before we can become instruments of healing to others. When patient and physician meet, both may be changed forever.
“To be a healer is to find God in those in need of healing . . . Healing is a direct encounter with the divine. And that encounter, if genuine, necessarily causes personal transformation.” (Nouwen)
This sacred calling to service, embedded in the vocation of medicine, is the lifeblood of physicians who find true meaning, purpose and joy in their work and in caring for the soul. In the face of “negative outcomes” or even death, the physician remains an engaged and trusted guide for patient and family.
“It is important that healthcare providers be aware of their own values, beliefs and attitudes, particularly toward their own mortality. A spiritual perspective on care recognizes that the clinician-patient relationship is ultimately a relationship between two human beings. Confronting personal mortality enables a provider to better understand and empathize with what the patient is facing, to better handle the stress of working with seriously ill and dying people, and to form deeper and more meaningful connections with the patient.” (4)
What can you do to cultivate and nurture this dimension of your practice?
Be realistic about what you expect from yourself.
Be mindful that the encounter with the patient is an encounter with the holy mystery of God. (5)
Remember in humility that the power to heal does not belong to you but to God. (5)
Recall that the relationship between healthcare professionals and patients demands trust and honest conversation. (5) Ask patients about their faith, beliefs and spiritual lives, and know when to refer to a chaplain for more professional and in-depth assessment.
Connect with colleagues. Talk about the thoughts, feelings and experiences that arise in daily practice. Be intentional and active in exploring what gives your practice meaning, purpose and satisfaction.
Attend to your own spiritual life. From where do you draw your strength and your hope? What is your passion? Feed your soul.
Where do you need healing? What obstacles to patient care or self care challenge you? What gifts and blessings do you have as resources?
To address these questions in more depth, please remember the availability of this chaplain or any in the Chaplaincy Care and Education Department. We remain committed to serving you, in service to the patients of LG Health!
Koenig, H. G. “Religion, Spirituality, and Health: The Research and Clinical Implications”, International Scholarly Research Network, Volume 2012, Article ID 278730.
Zollfrank, A. A., Trevino, K. M., Cadge, W., Balboni, M. J., Thiel, M. M., Fitchett, G., Gallivan, K., VanderWeele, T. and Balboni, T. A. "Teaching health care providers to provide spiritual care: a pilot study." Journal of Palliative Medicine 18, no. 5 (May 2015): 408-414.
Koenig, H. G. "Religion, spirituality, and health: a review and update." Advances in Mind-Body Medicine 29, no. 3 (Summer 2015): 19-26.
Puchalski, C., Sandoval, C., “A Clinical Guide to Supportive and Palliative Care for HIV/AIDS,” 2003.
Sulmasy, D.P., “A Balm for Gilead: Meditations on Spirituality and the Healing Arts,” 2006.
Peter Jupin is chaplain at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute and has worked extensively in the fields of counseling, employee health and well-being, and pastoral care. He is an ordained Roman Catholic Deacon in the Diocese of Harrisburg.