Retreat focuses on spirituality in health care

Health care is essential in all our lives, but does your doctor understand that you may want to pray before a surgery or read scripture before getting the results of your tests?
On Saturday, senior occupational therapy majors held an educational spiritual retreat open to all health care majors to take part in. The retreat focused on teaching students about integrating spirituality in health care. Approximately 20 students participated.
Ashley Mann, Jackie Curtz, Emily Cornelius and Sam Favret wanted to do their group thesis project on a topic that they found was relevant to health care providers, but is not addressed often.
“The benefits of addressing spirituality in a health care setting are well-researched and documented, which led us to our question: ‘if the research is there that it is beneficial, why aren’t people addressing it?’” Mann said. “The most common answer we could find was that health care providers did not feel that they were educated enough to address spirituality in practice.”
Mann, Curtz, Cornelius and Favre wanted to see if more education would help make spirituality a common topic that is addressed in health care.
Mann said that spiritual awareness in health care professions is necessary across the board.
“We don’t feel that spirituality and health care are related in different ‘degrees’ across professions because that implies it is quantifiable, it’s more a variation in the way it is connected,” Mann said. “For example, a physician does not necessarily need to address spirituality in treatment the same way a nurse or occupational therapist does, but he or she still needs to have an awareness that the client’s spirituality would have impact on their treatment.”
At the retreat, there were various case studies and role playing activities for students to take part in. The significance of these activities was to provide students with experience on addressing spirituality as well as education. Also, guest lecturers were there to share their insights on the subject.
Jeffrey L. Boss, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the occupational therapy program, was one of the guest lecturers. He addressed specifically how to guide health care providers using the proper methods to approach clients about spirituality.
“It’s a model designed to approach another topic that providers and clients both have difficulty discussing – sexuality – but seems appropriate for any topic which is perhaps considered sensitive in nature,” Boss said.
By exposing the students to the model approach and various tools, Boss explained that they are expecting this educational information would help participants to be more prepared to address spirituality and religion in the clinic.
Spirituality in health care is a fairly new topic that is still being delved into. Boss said that it only been overtly considered part of occupational therapy’s domain since about 2000.
“We are still coming to terms with just what it means and how it applies clinically, as are most other health care professions,” Boss said. “But, the research showing the health benefits of spirituality and religion is strong, and so health care accreditation bodies are starting to require spirituality’s inclusion in plans of care.”
Since the retreat is part of a thesis project, it is not yet known if there were any benefits. However, learning about spirituality in any career, especially one that predominantly works with a wide range of people, can be beneficial.
Spirituality itself may seem vague because people interpret it differently. Moreover, Boss expressed that spirituality is not something that can be taught, for it is experienced.
Boss acknowledged that experience can come in many forms.
“From my Christian perspective, [spirituality is a] relationship you have with God,” Boss said. “I believe that relationship, that experience, to be important.
“So yes, I believe all students should learn to strengthen that experience and understand how others see that experience.”
Boss said that this acknowledgement and awareness of the spiritual aspect of health care can only benefit health care students in their future careers.
“For health care students, having a good grasp on your own spirituality is going to be necessary to help clients with theirs as it impacts the client’s health,” Boss said. “For other students, a deeper understanding of their own and other’s spirituality is going to be important in any profession in this multicultural society.”

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