While largely seen as a supportive mechanism, there are indications that spirituality and religion may, in some cases, pose challenges for patients who are already medically compromised.
However, the general consensus on this topic seems to be that “by ignoring the spiritual dimension of health, for whatever reason, we may be depriving ourselves of the leverage we need to help empower individuals and populations to achieve improved physical, social, and mental health” (Vader 2006).
The Biopsychosocial-Spiritual Model of health takes a holistic approach rather than a medical approach to promoting health and addressing illness and pain. In this approach, spirituality and religion are important beyond the treatment of an individual with a specific, diagnosed medical condition. There are three key components to this model that all encompass a way to address spirituality and religion in health and mental health.
- Holistic health includes not only treating or curing specific symptoms, but also supports promoting the overall health and well-being of individuals, families and communities. Spirituality and religion have a role to play in this aspect of holistic health by supporting actions that enhance physical and mental health. For example, many traditions address caring for the body, avoiding behaviors that debase body and spirit, or support healthy diet choices. Holistic health and mental health approaches can also offer opportunities to promote spiritual well-being.
- Holistic health recognizes that for some individuals and families, the experience of illness and pain may relate to spiritual concerns and that those concerns may manifest as physical or emotional symptoms.
- Holistic health approaches address not only curing or treating a specific physical ailment, but also ensure that support and comfort are provided to the individual and his or her family and community. Thus, holistic care would address the care and support of families who have a child or other member who is seriously or chronically ill or has a disability. It would address the pain of the bereaved. Part of that support can include spiritual and religious resources.
When seeking quality care, reference is often made to its being “holistic.” Each person, adult and child, in a clinical encounter - patient, family members, and health and mental health care providers - enters with his or her own personal configuration of body, mind, and spirit. For each individual, the component parts may have different levels of significance and, for some, the “spirit” part may not be important at all.
Rarely is one person’s configuration identical to that of others. There may be many similarities or there may be extreme differences (even among family members, or between the patient and the provider). Importantly, health and mental health care providers may have to negotiate their own notions of what is perceived to be a professional rather than a personal map. At an individual level, the complexity of this holistic view can be seen in the diagram above. Any “dis-ease” in one of these three parts may be manifested in another area, so that physical and psychological symptoms or pain may be indicators of “spiritual distress.”
Traditionally in health and mental health care settings, providers have become comfortable with treating the mind and the body, but the “spirit” part, the whole person, continues to elude us. The Biopsychosocial-Spiritual Holistic Paradigm of Health remains a goal for many, but it is not yet a widespread reality.
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