Recently, Kenneth Pargament, PhD, shared troubling facts about the lives of health care providers:
• 45.8 percent of physicians report at least one symptom of burnout; highest rate among those involved in frontline care (Shanafelt, 2012)
• Physicians have twice the risk of suicide of general population
• Each year, it would take the equivalent of 1 to 2 average size graduating classes of medical school to replace the number of physicians who kill themselves (Miller & McGowen, 2000)
As mentioned in my last column, the 22nd Annual Psychotherapy and Faith Conference was hosted by the Institute of Spirituality and Health at The Texas Medical Center in Houston.
Dr. Pargament, a professor of psychology at Bowling Green State University, was one of the conference speakers. His talk was titled Conversations with Eeyore: Spirituality and the Generation of Hope among Mental Health Providers.
Pargament explained that health care providers can be traumatized by what they see in their client’s lives. But, even though they may be traumatized, the sacred dimension (spirituality) of a client can lift them up. Attending to the spiritual aspects of clients can actually jumpstart both the lives of the client and the care provider. Pargament also stated that spirituality fosters the sense that something runs beneath what we see.
In my own healing practice, I’ve noticed that the human capacity for change and growth stem directly from spirituality. Why? Because a spiritual sense of existence enables us to focus on and demand order, balance, strength, and health rather than the limitations and fears of a material-based outlook.
What would happen to health care in general if a majority of providers discovered that they were consistently connected with and empowered by something divine? Would this spiritual advantage prompt a reduction in trauma, depression, and suicide among physicians and society as a whole?
The Wall Street Journal recently reported, “Nearly 70 percent of community hospitals surveyed in 2011 provided chaplaincy services, up from 62 percent in 2003, according to the American Hospital Association.”
If spiritual care is being offered to patients because of its recognized benefits, why aren’t providers requesting and receiving some form of spiritual care? Perhaps, it is because, until recently, voicing the words spirituality and health in the same sentence was taboo.
In 1977, Dr. Pargament gave his maiden talk about the relationship of religion and mental health to a university’s psychology department. Afterwards, the distinguished chairman of the department whispered to him, “I’m Catholic.”
Pargament describes what happened next, “Being trained as a clinical psychologist, I knew what to say. So, I leaned toward him and whispered back, “Oh.”
Then Pargament softly asked, “Why are we whispering?” The chairman said, “Well, you know, psychology, being Catholic, they don’t exactly mix.”
The chairman’s response was a sign of the times. In the 70’s, if you were in psychology or medicine, people whispered about spirituality and religion. Now, Pargament believes, “I can talk in full voice, which is a real gift.”
Today, the power of spirituality to improve lives is more recognized than ever. However, mountain ranges of ignorance, prejudice, and misconception still remain.
While writing about a wholly spiritual, prayer-based method of healing, Robert Peel, an American historian, and writer on religious and ecumenical topics, caught the essence of the resistance that those in psychology and medicine also have felt when mentioning, researching, and utilizing spirituality and its benefits.
Peel has written, “A determined skeptic is not likely to be convinced by any particular healing attributed solely to prayer. He or she may dismiss it on hypothetical grounds of coincidence, a misdiagnosis, spontaneous remission, the placebo effect, careless reporting on the facts, and so on. But what has happened to the heart and mind and spirit of the individual healed, and what the practitioner on the case may have seen and understood and felt while praying – these are experiential data quite beyond the cynic’s comprehension or calibration.”
During his conference presentation, Pargament quoted authors P. S. O’Grady and K. A. Richards, “I feel there is a mystical quality to the therapeutic process. In that I am referring to a third force. There’s the client, the therapist, and something else present.” (O’Grady & Richards, 2010, p.61)
Is it possible that Jesus’ care for both mental and physical difficulties set a precedent for effective spiritual treatment? Inspired reasoning reveals that your spiritual selfhood is progressively demonstrable in your human experience. The beneficial influence that the divine has on the human condition could be referred to as the Christ, — “the third force.” This force is God’s curative power that Jesus utilized to heal others.
Pargament mentioned during the conference that it is better for providers to view clients as human beings rather than as objects. And, if I may move the bar a bit further, I feel it is preferable for providers to view themselves and their clients as spiritual beings. This allows both provider and client the freedom to view one another as a part of something vitally real and most importantly, sacred.
Pargament concluded his talk by sharing the importance of possible sacred moments in the healing relationship between providers and clients, as well as the consequences of these moments. He explained:
• Sacred moments are not uncommon
• Sacred moments are part of healing relationships
• Sacred moments may be vital not only to clients but to healers
• Stronger working alliance with provider
• Reports of personal growth, transformation
• Reports of greater self-efficacy
• Reports of improvement to health
• Greater sense of spiritual well-being
• Reports of less depression
The aim of a health care provider is to improve each client’s life as much as possible. I believe, because of this high goal, each provider can feel the strength and peace of “the third force.”
Therefore, if the occasion arises, it may be helpful for you to share these statements with your provider:
• It is the Christ in action when you feel relaxed and confident in the middle of an emergency.
• It is the Christ-power that motivates your correcting words and authoritative tone as you speak to those needing guidance and moral direction.
• It is the tender Christ that reveals to you the realness of spiritual being right where fear, pain, and disease describe your clients.
• It is the Christ within you that enables everyone who meets you to be healthier and holier for having met you.
If you’re able to share with a full voice, instead of a whisper, you just might be helping your health care provider.
Keith Wommack is a Syndicated Columnist, Christian Science practitioner and teacher, husband, and step-dad. He has been described as a spiritual spur (since every horse needs a little nudge now and then). Keith’s columns originate at: KeithWommack.com