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Spirituality and Health Care: Not Only for the Patients

Allow this formulation of spirituality: an individual and corporate journey for life’s meaning and purpose, for coherence between inner and outer perspectives, and for a sense of well-being.

Spirituality in the health-care arena does not refer only to patient-focused concerns. It also refers to the medical care providers’ concerns for their own spirituality and for the organizational life of the institution. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
These additional forums of spiritual interest are crucial to the well-being of care providers and to the institutions they serve. Physicians, nurses and others frequently experience their work as a spiritual endeavor. Thus, they look to both their spiritual support network and to their institution for nurture.
 
Interestingly, spirituality is also of rising interest in the business environment. Spirituality from the view of business organizational development has important implications for hospital organizations and their employees. There are three broad dimensions of engaging “spirituality at work.” 
 

  • Core values allowing the human spirit to flourish;
  • Strategies leading to optimal human well-being;
  • Experiences of transcendence

“Core values” may include truth, trust, justice, creativity (innovation), collective harmony (community), health/healing, meaning-making and life purpose. Most hospital mission statements and value/vision statements refer to the one or more of these values. People who work in health care include these in their personal identity. 
 
My system annually invites nominations for a “Values Award” in order to recognize employees who have demonstrated integration of our articulated values. This generates model stories which enable all of us to appreciate how values integration can nurture our spirits and our communities. Hospital systems that highlight and generate attention to these areas will find employees who feel “spiritually attuned.”
 
“Optimal human development” refers to a cluster of rather disparate perspectives. Some are based on Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” (survival, security, social, self-esteem, self-actualization). Employees are provided opportunities that nurture their development. Others use the notion of a “learning organization.” Such an organization is based upon a shared vision, personal mastery, new mental models, team learning and systems thinking.  A third organizational frame focuses on emotional intelligence. This frame emphasizes building self-awareness, self-control, creativity, empathy, social skills, organizational skills, diversity, conflict resolution and transformational leadership. Each of these perspectives develops one of more aspects of spirituality.
 
For example, one hospital system organizes its educational offerings according to the emotional intelligence paradigm. They develop classes and volunteer opportunities, especially for managers, which nurture these areas of development. 
 
Organizations based upon “transcendent” spirituality nurture employees to move beyond their own self-interest and engage their larger reality. Some focus on ethical training with the conviction that this will move employees beyond self-absorption. Thus, practices that emphasize honesty, responsibility, respect, fairness and compassion are common.  A few offer workshops and exercises that directly seek movement away from ego-centric motivation toward higher motivations. These include development of awareness and concentration, cultivating positive emotions and cultivation of wisdom.
 
My system is currently engaged in a “Gift of Caregiving” program. This two-day retreat is offered to all staff with a focus on recovering their passion for their vocation. It allows individuals to remember their commitments and make new commitments. The model is highly informed by the need we all have for dealing with negative inner emotions and for being attuned to positive futures. Some systems have built a labyrinth for staff to gain awareness of the transcendent in their daily lives.
 
These efforts to include spirituality in the workplace and in organizational priorities can be used cynically. However, I believe most who include an explicit spiritual focus are committed to assisting their employees in living less fragmented lives and to experiencing more wholeness.  Such emphases certainly include spiritual values in the very material world of health care. Moreover, they explicitly provide opportunities for employees to experience their vocation as a path of spiritual growth.
 
Spirituality is a “hot item” in many circles today. While the cultural sources for this surge are somewhat difficult to trace and are open to opinion, the thought resources are somewhat clearer: 
 

  • Psychology of religion
  • Pastoral care and counseling and spiritual direction
  • Eastern and transpersonal psychologies
  • Science, including medicine
  • Business organizational development.

Each of these makes an important contribution to our knowledge of human spirituality. Those interested in nurturing individuals and communities should be familiar with these key perspectives.
 
Health care providers are on a spiritual journey. Some health-care organizations nurture this journey. And churches can support those who want to experience spirituality in the ordinary moments of their work lives.

Steve Ivy is vice president for values, ethics, social responsibility, and pastoral services of Clarian Health Partners in Indianapolis, Ind.