Why spiritual care is key to health

spirituality & health google imagesRecently, I had the opportunity to visit with a government official on healthcare. I wanted to speak with him about the importance of recognizing spiritual care as an integral part of maintaining one’s mental and physical health.

I was grateful when I realized that he too recognized this.  He said his wife had suffered with bouts of depression off and on over the years and that when she was looking for a therapist, her primary concern was that the therapist be one of faith — spirituality and prayer were important to her.

“During the last two decades,” Betty Ferrell, a nurse for 35 years and a researcher and professor at the City of Hope Medical Center in Los Angeles, “developed a quality of life model for patients measuring four dimensions.”  It was clear the physical and social needs were being met by medical caretakers.  But Ferrell “found one critical component lacking: spiritual care.” (Jan. 24, 2013)

She found patients were hesitant to discuss spiritual matters “even when faith was an important part of a patients’ life.”

The reluctance to talk about spirituality, prayer and faith exists on the part of the patient and the physician not only because they felt they were treading on personal feelings but also because there seemed to be a “misunderstanding” about what spiritual care is.  They “assume spirituality refers to religion, but it is more about what the patients value in their lives, what connections they need to have a ‘good life.’”

“Ferrell’s latest work has been helping teach patients how to express their spiritual needs and also to help caregivers provide such care.  She says doctors and nurses learn these skills in the same way they learn clinical skills like doing a physical exam.”

More and more medical students are being trained to deal with patient’s faith and desire for prayer.  In 1992 only three medical schools had courses on spirituality as part of their curricula.  In 2004, over 84 schools included courses on spirituality, religiosity.

Current and future physicians are learning to meet the patient’s whole body requirements – mind, soul, body.  Often this is done in a setting where there is a team, including chaplains and others trained in spiritual care, working with the patient. Studies show that institutions are simply trying to keep up with patient demands for this. And, the trend is still rising.

As one example among these universities, the curricula at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, School of Medicine, includes a course on the importance of spirituality in patient care.  The objective is to “expand students’ conceptualization of the patient as person to include dimensions of spiritual beliefs and needs” and “to understand how patients’ spiritual belief system impacts their health.” (1)

“Spiritual care is integral to the science and art of healing, and therefore a critical component in the quality of care,” states Elaine J. Yuen, PhD, Research Associate Profession, Department of Health Policy Center for Research in Medical Education, Jefferson Medical College.

Spiritual care as part of maintaining and improving health has long been recognized and practiced. In the Bible, Jeremiah relays this message to us all:  “I will restore health unto thee, and I will heal thee of thy wounds, saith the Lord.”  (Jer. 30:17)

As patients, physicians and policymakers continue to look for ways to improve the quality of health and healthcare, the growing recognition of spirituality as a crucial aspect of each individual is a welcome trend.

Kate is interested in blogging about health, spirituality, Christian Science, science, the importance of prayer and religion.  She is a Christian Science practitioner and the media, legislative and public contact for Christian Science in the state of Maryland.  She and her husband enjoy hiking, especially with Callie, a Blue Heeler, and riding motorcycles. 

  1. Fortin AH, Bearnett KG. Medical school curricula in spiritual and medicine.  JAMA. 2004;291(23):2883
  2. Photo from blog.brighamcityhospital.com uploaded from google images


  1. Thank you for this post. God is present wherever we are