Wednesday 27 September 2006

Doctors and gods

I attended a lecture on 'Health and Spirituality' by a leading Sydney psychiatrist (a Jewish guy). It was a graduate seminar, mainly for medicos. I was struck again by how little people know about Christianity (and religion in general). The level of discussion was very introductory, as if it were a new idea that people's spirituality and belief systems might interact with their health and well-being. But there does seem to be a genuine shift among doctors, from thinking they should disabuse people of the idea that spiritual things matter to their health ("here, take a pill, that will fix your depression") to respecting a patient's religious views and building them into patient care ("as part of your history, tell me about your religious views").

What I found most intriguing is the idea that the doctor (a self-confessed god-figure, according to the lecturer) is now feeling some responsibility to be a spiritual advisor, too. In fact, one of the slide titles presented was "Correcting Dysfunctional Beliefs". And there are guidelines for spiritual assessment in the provision of care. Some even explore whether religious activities could form part of a medical prescription for a patient's health.

If doctors want to do this, they will need to educate themselves about specific religious beliefs. In the US, the number of medical schools offering courses in spiritual issues rose between 1992-2002 from 2% to 68%. But in Australia, there is still precious little such education to be had. We could also use greater involvement of trained Christians, moral philosophers, theologians, even apologists, in the health system, where people are often asking the hardest questions and looking most earnestly and urgently for the answers.

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Christopher said...

Hi Greg,

The seminar sounds very interesting, I would be like to read/hear more about it.

I worked in a hospital for three years, and I am thinking of doing something on the relationship between philosophy and medical practice next year.

The role of the doctor, and medical science in general, hasn't seemed to come under the same attack from "post-modern" philosophy or philosophy of science i.e. Kuhn, as the natural sciences.

People seem to expect from doctors and medical science only what God can provide, eternal life.

Mark said...

Interestingly, in the latest "Sydney's Child"(p 44), there was an article entitled: “Spiritual Sides – Angela Rossmanith reflects on the growing interest in spirituality and how it is being addressed in children and adolescents.”

The article reports that *gasp* developmental psychology is starting to acknowledge the positive role of spirituality in the development of children!

Greg Clarke said...

I think the broad definition of spirituality has 'allowed' people to admit that science/medicine doesn't describe human experience or meet human needs very directly, or holistically. There is still resistance to discussion of specific dogma or beliefs and their impact on health. That seems to me the most useful thing to explore. How does a Christian patient's view that 'death is not the end' affect their progress through a terminal illness? Perhaps ground is opening up in medicine to ask that kind of question more openly.

michael jensen said...

Hauerwas has written some great stuff about the medical profession... worth a look for sure.

Christopher said...

Hauerwas has written some great stuff about the medical profession... worth a look for sure.

Hi Michael,

Can your recommend any titles or essays?
I had a look at God, Medicine, and Suffering on Amazon. It looks interesting and I think I might get it.

Anonymous said...

Fyi - in my research for an essay on spirituality and medicine I was indebted to fantastic book by Joel James Shuman and Keith G. Meador (forward by Hauerwas), "Heal Thyself: Spirituality, Medicine, and the Distortion of Christianity." A deeply insightful critique on this very issue.