Why would a doctor ask about spiritual practices? (Part 4 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…

In our last post we covered the first 4 reasons why spirituality and/or religion should be incorporated into health systems (see prior blog – Part 3). Helping Hands too croppedThese reasons are based on the summary of research on the connection between spirituality and health presented by Dr Harold Koenig, Director of the Duke Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health (see Koenig, 2012).

Let’s continue the dialogue with reasons five through eight.

*Fifth, religion and/or spirituality are associated with both mental and physical health and likely affect medical outcomes. Health professionals need to know about these influences, just as they need to know if a person smokes cigarettes or uses alcohol or drugs.

Sixth, the kind of support and care that a patient receives once they return home is influenced by religion and or spirituality. A supportive faith community may ensure that patients receive medical follow up. Support may include providing rides to doctors’ offices or in ensuring compliance with medications. Health care professionals need to know whether patients live alone or have access to social interaction and support, which can influence health care decisions, as well as outcomes.

Seventh, research shows that the failure to address patients’ spiritual needs increases health care costs, especially toward the end of life. During end-of-life care, patients and families may request medical care that is often very expensive and may even be futile. Patients or families may be praying for a miracle. They may view withdrawing life support or agreeing to hospice care as giving up or as a lack of faith and belief in the healing power of God. Taking a full spiritual history can allow for meaningful dialogue on end-of-life care thus avoiding prolonged suffering and unnecessary financial burdens.

Finally, standards set by the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Hospital Organizations (JCAHO) and by Medicare (in the U.S.) require that providers of health care show respect for patients’ cultural and personal values, beliefs, and preferences, including religious or spiritual beliefs. Being aware of these beliefs allows health care providers to both respect their patient’s perspectives and adjust their care accordingly.

Please stay tuned for the final blog entry in this series addressing the connection between spirituality and health.


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)

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