Thursday, December 27, 2007


Roll Over and Say a Prayer

The San Mateo County (California) Times has an article on something I've never heard about before: "parish nursing." The article starts with the unsurprising relationship between religion, mental well-being and recovery from injury or disease:

Religion can help those with chronic conditions, including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke and arthritis, say the authors of a study at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

"Religion is infrequently discussed in rehabilitation settings and is rarely investigated in rehabilitation research," said Missouri health psychologist Brick Johnstone. "To better meet the needs of persons with disabilities, this needs to change."

Yoga, reading of religious texts, meditation or the laying on of hands have value in a clinical setting, the researchers concluded.
None of that seems particularly controversial ... nor particularly exclusive. The same could be said about intellectual stimulation, massage, greater contact with family and friends and many more possibilities. Even spending time with pets has been touted as a cause of improvement in the elderly and chronically ill. That's why this seems somewhat out of balance:

"Our goal is to bring to the conversation that health is more than fixing your body," [neuropsychiatrist James Duffy, president and CEO of the Institute of Religion and Health in Houston] said. "Health is a transformative process that involves healing the spirit."
But that's just the beginning:

Parish, or faith community nursing, which combines spiritual and health service, has exploded since the American Nursing Association recognized the specialty in 2005.

Today, an estimated 10,000 faith community nurses work in American congregations.

John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek recently advertised for a supervising nurse with theological education. The new manager will offer support to nurses who work in religious congregations.

"We have a mission statement that says faith plays a role in healing," said Dwayne Michael, director of pastoral care at Muir. "We do a spiritual assessment (of each patient)."
Rebecca Faith (no, seriously!) is a a nurse practitioner at University of California, Berkeley, and a registered nurse at Alta Bates Summit Hospital.

Many chronic health problems have at their root a spiritual as well as a physiological dysfunction, she said.

"I see an epidemic of anxiety and fatigue among women. I will say, 'How's your spiritual life?' and (a woman) will say, 'I used to meditate but I don't anymore.'"

A spiritual emptiness helps spur addiction, and irreverence for the body as a sacred vessel can lead to disorders such as obesity and hypertension, she said.

"What do I do with them? I pray, I enter into an I-thou divine relationship and I covenant with the community," she said. "I speak to their values and beliefs."
There are, naturally, those who are opposed. Richard Sloan, the author of Blind Faith: The Unholy Alliance of Religion and Medicine (St. Martin's Press, 2006) said it well:

It can do all sort of harm because it causes people to confuse medical care with other aspects of their lives. It can lead them to avoid conventional medical care. And it can lead them to believe their health problems are from inadequate faith and devotion.
And Jeff Leinen, medical director of the emergency department at Sutter Delta Hospital, who himself says a prayer before he performs a procedure, or when a patient dies, but quietly to himself, warns that it is too easy to impose one's faith on a patient.

No! Ya think?

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