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Is it Time to Make Time for Spiritual Care?

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What do prayer, unconditional love, forgiveness, life's meaning and purpose, and spiritual practice have in common?

They are five Spiritual Concepts Western Medicine Must Embrace according to Karen Wyatt MD writing on the allnurses website.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the debate in the comments section shows a number of detractors have been energised by the presence of the word "must" in the article's title.

Nevertheless, a number of studies point to health benefits from such "spiritual concepts". Furthermore, there's an indisputable trend of embracing the importance of patient spirituality in the NHS and in US healthcare systems.

Last year the Royal College of Nursing conducted an online survey of over 4,000 nurses to establish the attitudes of its members towards spirituality and the provision of spiritual care.

The research, thought to be the largest study of its type in the UK, found more than 95 per cent of nurses felt it was their job to identify the spiritual needs of patients. In addition, nearly 80 per cent called for their training to include spirituality and spiritual care.

These results have led the Royal College of Nursing to produce a special pocket guide on the subject which quotes one member saying: "Spiritual care is a fundamental part of nursing currently much neglected through ignorance and misunderstanding."

Many nurses, though, struggle to provide even the more conventional "fundamentals of care" according to Tina Donnelly, Director of the Royal College of Nursing in Wales.

For this reason, the Welsh RCN has launched "Time to Care", a campaign to ensure nurses are given sufficient time to do their work "to the highest professional standards". This would enable them to "demonstrate how much they care about their patients and their families".

Should these "professional standards" include spiritual care?

Some might say it's a nice thought, but that if healthcare workers already feel they lack the time to do the basics properly surely it's pointless adding something else to their workload.

But what if that "something else" is a benefit not a burden - a vital ingredient that helps healthcare workers to fulfill the highest sense of their calling by building on the basics and fully engaging with the patient?

Award-winning columnist Professor Stephen Wright, has devoted much of his life to practising and articulating what he regards as the core qualities of good nursing, regularly pointing out how a spiritual maturity in a nurse benefits the patient.

He recently told the Nursing Standard: "If nursing is anything it is an expression of heartfelt compassion for the wellbeing of another human being. It is heart-centred work.

"We, when we are at our best, when we are at our most mature, ok in ourselves, fully clear-eyed and present, we become the sacred space around which, through which, by which the patient is helped to become more whole and healthy themselves."

He added: "Soul-centred environments produce soul-centered nurses, which produce better patient care. It's that simple."

It is not only professional nurses and other clinicians who can benefit from offering and receiving spiritual support. If we want to nurture health in ourselves and others I, like many, have found that prayer, unconditional love, forgiveness, meaning and spiritual practice can indeed play a substantial part.

These were all significant factors in a health improvement I experienced after suffering regular bouts of sinusitis until twenty years ago.

In the words of the man whose birth is about to be celebrated by billions, prayer enabled me to see it was possible to "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you."

When I "practised" that unconditional love by forgiving some people I felt I had good reason to resent, the sinusitis ceased and hasn't returned.

It can sometimes seem as if everything conspires to prevent us connecting with our spiritual nature. Daily demands - from watering the plants and walking the dog to our work and watching world news - clamour for attention, crowding out the space we need to dig deeper into those all-important spiritual concepts.

It's never too soon to take a stand against the tendency of the mundane to monopolise our attention. By creating that space we can harness the power of listening for the sort of inspiration that refreshes, renews and restores.

A healthier, happier experience can sometimes be just a changed thought away.

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