The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. (1) The Websters Dictionary defines health as the condition of being sound in mind, body, and spirit. (2). Focusing on all three aspects of our being enables individuals to strengthen each to achieve balance. Neglecting the spirit and focusing on mind and body may lead to short term fixes and undesirable outcomes.
A 2017 Gallup Poll showed that 87% of Americans believe in God or a universal spirit and this has remained between 86% and 92% since 2011. (3) Spirituality may be expressed as a belief in God, but it can also include beliefs that give patients a sense of greater purpose in life through connection with nature, energy, art, music, and humankind. (4)
Spiritual health receives little attention in context to the medical world but is a part of our tripartite being- Spirit, Mind and Body. Traditional clinical care focuses primarily on mind and body issues. Focusing on all three areas of wellness (Spiritual, Emotional and Physical) contribute to a balanced individual. There are limited opportunities to address spiritual health of youth and caregivers. An understanding of the beliefs of a parent, caregiver or youth offers an opportunity for the medical professional to incorporate these deeply held beliefs into clinical care. Some institutions have broadened their health assessments to include a spiritual history. For instance, the largest health care accrediting body in the United States, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO), includes the administration of a spiritual assessment in the standards of care. (5) The spiritual history and spiritual assessment may overlap in some ways, but the history often helps the practitioner briefly determine how a person’s religion or spirituality allows him or her to cope with current medical issues. (6)
Currently spiritual assessments focus on individuals who are at a crisis in health care, determining end of life issues or receiving substance abuse treatment. (6) It is my belief that incorporating the spiritual history as part of the medical assessment early in life ( from birth through teen years) can help identify beliefs that influence medical care and foster the building of resilience and the capacity to develop healthy relationships.
Spiritual wellness can be manifested by volunteering, being positive and optimistic, contributing to society, connecting with others, feeling a sense of belonging and practicing self-care. (7) Addressing spiritual wellness enhances feeling of compassion, empathy towards others as well as feelings of Hope for the future. When we tap into feelings of Hope, creativity and resourcefulness are unlocked. We know that unforgiveness, guilt, shame and feelings of abandonment are powerful drivers of mental and physical diseases. A spiritual history includes how we worship, love, and pray and helps to engage the total being in the process of healing.
In the book Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief, Herbert Benson MD notes: “The fact that we all share the potential to feel the presence of an external energy force, a God if you will, could be such a tremendously healing and unifying revelation for a diverse strife-torn world.” (8)
1. Brittanica. World Health Organization. Britannica. [Online] December 3, 2022. https://www.britannica.com/topic/World-Health-Organization.
2. Merriam-Webster. Health. Merriam-Webster. [Online] December 5, 2022. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/health#dictionary-entry-1.
3. Gallup Poll. Gallup Poll. How Many Americans Believe in God. [Online] June 24, 2022. https://news.gallup.com/poll/268205/americans-believe-god.aspx.
4. American Academy of Family Physicians. AAFP. Spiritual Assessment. [Online] October 2022. https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2022/1000/spiritual-assessment.html.
5. Medicine, National Library of. A Template for Spiritual Assessment. PubMed. [Online] October 5, 2006. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17152630/.
6. Resources, Joint Commission. The Source. Spirit, Mind and Body. [Online] February 2018. https://www.nacc.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Part-2.-Body-Mind-Spirit-JC-The-Source-Feb.2018-Vol.16.2.pdf.
7. University of New Hampshire. Spiritual Wellness. Spiritual Wellness. [Online] 2022. https://www.unh.edu/health/spiritual-wellness.
8. MD, Herbert Benson. Timeless Healing-The Power and Biology of Belief. New York: Fireside, 1997.