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Spiritual Caregiving

Healthcare As A Ministry

Spiritual Caregiving by Verna Benner Carson
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With today's cumbersome insurance procedures, government regulations, endless paperwork, and concerns about malpractice rates, many health care professionals are asking: "Why am I doing this? Am I making a difference to my patients? Is there a better way—and if so, what is it?" In this book, Carson and Koenig examine the state of the health care system with the goal of providing healthcare professionals and caregivers the inspiration and practical tools to reclaim their sense of purpose.

The book begins with an evaluation of the current system from the perspective of the spiritual vision that initially motivated and nourished many caregivers. The authors then pose a vision of a health care system that supports and nurtures the spirituality of patients and their families, of which some elements already exist.

An overview is provided on the preparation necessary for health care professionals to offer spiritual care when there are major implications—for people with chronic illnesses, psychiatric issues, devastating injuries, and those preparing for surgery, facing death, and those living with chronic pain. Also explored are ways that health professionals and caregivers can maintain their own spiritual health even as they work to bring about healing, comfort, and solace to others.

Woven throughout the book are the personal narratives of physicians, nurses, chaplains, health care educators, community resource workers, administrators, therapists, and psychologists—all from a wide range of religious traditions. Their examples inspire and assist professionals in renewing the spiritual focus of health care.

Templeton Press; January 2008
265 pages; ISBN 9781599470634
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: Spiritual Caregiving
Author: Verna Benner Carson; Harold G. Koenig
In today’s climate of increasing technological advances, cumbersome insurance procedures, mazes of federal and state regulations, requirements for additional documentation, rising malpractice rates and escalating numbers of legal suits, the looming threat of Medicare and Medicaid collapse, and demands to see more patients, complete more medical tasks, do more with fewer resources, and keep up with the gains in health-related knowledge, we are overwhelmed and exhausted! As hard as we are working, we realize that many who need care are being left behind—and that the delivery of healthcare is becoming increasingly difficult. In fact, it is so difficult that some healthcare professionals are asking themselves:Why am I doing this? What is my purpose? Am I making a difference with the patients I serve? Is there a better way? And if there is a better way, what is it? At the heart of these questions is deep concern. Everyone entering healthcare expects the job to be challenging. How could it not be? Daily we have encounters with those who are wounded and broken by disease—physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual disease.These people look to us for healing, for advice, for comfort and solace.When we find that we are too busy, too tired, and too pulled by what seem to be tangential issues to be fully present to our patients, we experience a sense of “dis-ease.”We ask, Where is the joy in serving? How can we recapture the initial dream that motivated us to enter the healthcare professions? This book examines the spiritual vision that initially motivated and continues to nourish many caregivers.We examine this vision through the personal narratives of physicians, nurses, chaplains, healthcare educaix tors, community resource workers, administrators, therapists, psychologists, and social workers. These professionals come from a wide range of religious traditions: Protestant Christianity, Catholic Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and others. The book addresses a number of issues, such as whether the healthcare professional has responded to a felt “call” from God to pursue a particular specialty. We asked participants to reflect on God’s continuing influence years after that choice was made.We look at healthcare not as a business concerned with the bottom line but rather as a ministry and what that ministry means to patients. Many may react with discomfort to the idea that healthcare is a ministry, believing that the term ministry belongs to the clergy—priests, ministers, chaplains, rabbis—and to members of religious orders. Many would argue that years of professional education and training serve to mold the scientific, objective, and sometimes interpersonal distance that contributes to “good” science. Yet for many healthcare professionals, there is so much more. Ministry is at the heart of what they do, and at the heart of ministry is service, comfort, relief of pain, healing, and support when healing is not possible. This ministry, supported by prayer, is descriptive of healthcare rooted in spirituality. We examine the state of the current healthcare system and its impact on the spiritual well-being of those who work in it.We envision an ideal healthcare system that supports and nurtures the spirituality not only of patients and their families but also of the professional caregivers that work to bring about healing, comfort, and solace.We present examples of where elements of the ideal healthcare system already exist. We provide an overview of the preparation necessary for healthcare professionals to provide spiritual care for patients and families.We take a close look at what spiritual care looks like when we are providing that care for others.We focus on a number of healthcare issues with major spiritual implications, including those with chronic illnesses such as AIDS and dementia; those with psychiatric conditions who may feel abandoned not only by family and society but by God as well; those who are facing death as well as those who are left behind; those with devastating injuries; those facing surgery; and those who live with chronic pain. In each of these healthcare situations there are spiritual threads such as loss and grief, forgiveness, anger, questions of meaning and purpose, and the “Why” questions—Why me? Why now? and Why, God? Also explored are ways that we as caregivers can maintain our own spiritual health. Activities such as praying alone or with other health professionals, worshiping, taking time to read inspirational literature, going on a retreat, becoming an active member of a faith community, listening to patients in an effort to meet their spiritual needs, and practicing the presence of God while at work are all ways that we can remain spiritually alive and well. Last, in the appendixes we provide resources for professional caregivers on the beliefs and practices of different religions, assessment tools that can be used in clinical practice, and lists of organizations and other resources that can support health professionals in their roles as spiritual caregivers.Throughout each chapter we include reflective questions and suggestions to assist the healthcare professional in renewing the spiritual focus of practice. Woven throughout this content are the stories of those who are providing healthcare from a spiritual foundation.We believe in the power of the story—not only the stories of our patients but our own as well. These stories are inspirational and educational and provide a glimpse into the character and motivation of the storyteller.They represent the generous sharing of sixty-five healthcare professionals from a broad array of faith traditions. Regardless of the faith tradition,we heard similar stories of hearing God’s call, responding to that call, and carrying forth the message to those who are served.We are grateful to those who generously gave of their time to answer our questions and to share with us. Our wish is that as you read this book, you will derive certain benefits. First,we hope you will realize that you are not alone. Many struggle with feeling overwhelmed laboring in this chaotic healthcare system, and yet they have been able to overcome discouragement and exhaustion by adopting a spiritual attitude toward their work.There are many who quietly and powerfully provide care based on knowledge of and a relationship with God. They provide loving and compassionate ministrations in spite of the demands of the system in which they function. Second, we hope you will examine your own practice of healthcare and identify ways that your spirituality influences that practice. Third, we ask you to examine ways that you can consciously and systematically influence the healthcare system to return to a vision that embraces and celebrates the spirituality of all. One consistent theme emerged from all the contributors to this book: that the healthcare system needs to change.The changes that are needed are not cosmetic, nor do they represent minor tweaking of a system that is relatively okay. No, the changes that are imagined are sea changes that relegate technological advances and bureaucratic requirements to a subordinate position, beneath the caring relationship held together with spiritual twine that is at the heart of real healthcare ministry. You may be thinking that such a change is truly a David-versus-Goliath scenario, that only someone out of touch with reality would even consider such a thing. But there are those who are devoting their professional careers to changing the system in just this way. And there are those such as the professionals whose stories appear in this book who are quietly changing the healthcare system, one day at a time, one patient at a time. As you begin to read this book and reflect on these stories, consider this story: A friend of ours was walking down a deserted Mexican beach at sunset.As he walked along, he began to see another man in the distance. As he grew nearer, he noticed that the local native kept leaning down, picking up something, and throwing it into the water.Time and again he kept hurling things out into the ocean. As our friend approached even closer, he noticed that the man was picking up starfish that had been washed up on the beach, and one at a time, he was throwing them back into the water. Our friend was puzzled. He approached the man and said,“Good evening, friend. I was wondering what you are doing.” “I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean.You see, it’s low tide right now and all of these starfish have been washed up onto the shore. If I don’t throw them back into the sea, they’ll die up here from lack of oxygen.” “I understand,” our friend replied, “but there must be thousands of starfish on this beach.You can’t possibly get to all of them.There are simply too many. And don’t you realize this is probably happening on hundreds of beaches all up and down this coast? Can’t you see that you can’t possibly make a difference?” The local native smiled, bent down, and picked up yet another starfish, and as he threw it back into the sea, he replied, “Made a difference to that one!”
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