Why would a doctor ask about spiritual practices? (Part 3 of 5)

Guest blogger, Laurie A. Tone LMFT, LPC, MHSP, served six years as Siloam Family Health Center’s behavioral health consultant. Today, she continues a five-part series of blogs on the body-mind-spirit connectedness.

Laurie writes…

skeleton walk

Courtesy of: http://www.3ds.com

Do you remember the little song you might have sang as a kid? “The heel bone’s connected to the foot bone. The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone…” and so on. Those connections seem pretty clear but what about Sam’s symptoms (see previous blog – part 2 of 5)? Could they really be connected to his guilt? If such a connection between spirituality and health exists, is there a way to test for it or measure it? Let’s see what the research says:

Dr. Harold Koenig, Director of the Duke Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, has summarized the research examining the relationship between religion and/or spirituality and mental and physical health (see Koenig, 2012).

In a systematic review, Koenig identified 3,300 quantitative original data-based studies from 1872 to 2010 examining the relationship between religion and /or spirituality and health. Empirical evidence shows a strong connection.

In fact, Koenig reports that the majority of studies report significant relationships between religion and/or spirituality and better health. Such evidence behooves the medical community to do a better job of integrating spirituality and health.

Dr Koenig has identified at least 8 reasons why spirituality and religion should be integrated into medical practice. In this post, I will address the first four reasons.

*First, many patients are religious or spiritual and a vast majority have spiritual needs related to their medical or psychiatric illness. Most of these needs currently go unmet. The unmet spiritual needs, especially if they involve religious or spiritual struggles, can adversely affect patient health and may increase mortality independent of mental, physical, or social health.

Second, religion or spirituality influences the patient’s ability to cope with illness. In some areas of the U.S., 90% of hospitalized patients use religion to enable them to cope with their illnesses and over 40% indicate it is their primary coping behavior. Poor coping has adverse effects on medical outcomes, both in terms of lengthening hospital stays and increasing mortality.

Third, religious or spiritual beliefs affect patients’ medical decisions, such as those with serious medical illnesses and especially those with advanced cancer or HIV/AIDS. Some decisions may conflict with medical treatments and can influence compliance with those treatments.

Fourth, doctors’ own religious or spiritual beliefs often influence their decisions about care provision. Some of these decisions may include the use of pain medications, abortion, vaccinations, and contraception. However, doctors’ views about these matters and how they influence their decisions are usually not discussed with the patient.

Please stay tuned for Part 4 of this series for reasons 5-8 of why, according to Dr. Koenig, religion and /or spirituality should be integrated into medical practice.


Koenig, H.G. (2012). Religion, Spirituality, and Health: The Research and Clinical Implications. International Scholarly Research Network (ISRN) Psychiatry. Volume 2012, Article ID 278730, doi:10.5402/2012/278730

(* Please see Koenig, 2012 for secondary sources cited in the first through fourth points)

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