Author discusses spiritual caregiving at Chambersburg Hospital

April 13, 2007|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Physicians, nurses and other health-care professionals work to mend the bodies and minds of their patients, but attending to their spiritual needs is an important and highly individualized part of the healing process, said an author and nurse who addressed staff Friday at Chambersburg Hospital.

"How many of you know prayer is a form of alternative medicine?" Verna Benner Carson asked a group of nurses and nursing students Friday.

The co-author of "Spiritual Caregiving" and other books on the subject spoke to more than 300 health-care professionals throughout the day, telling them prayer is the most common form of alternative treatment.

Caregivers can help patients meet their spiritual needs, but they need to be cognizant of the many different faiths and the different beliefs people adopt for themselves.


"People pick and choose what they believe in," said Carson, a psychiatric nurse and national director of behavioral health for Tender Loving Care-Staff Builders. They draw their faith from family, folk traditions and personal experiences, she said.

Nearly three-quarters of Americans espoused a belief in God in a recent Gallup Poll, and Carson said there is "a huge body of knowledge" suggesting religious activity improves the ability of patients to cope with illnesses.

"None of us can assume we know what that person believes unless we ask them," Carson said. She spoke of a Muslim patient agitated by nurses constantly coming and going from his room. When asked, the man said he needed privacy for daily prayers.

The hospital accommodated that need and went further, placing his bed facing east, she said.

Carson told the nurses how to do a "spiritual screening," finding out about a patient's faith, its importance in their life and how those beliefs apply to their health. Even atheists have beliefs that give their lives meaning, she said.

Confronted with a terminal illness or other tragedy, patients and family can question their faith. Carson discussed ways of restating or reflecting their feelings to help them cope.

While caregivers can support spiritual needs, Carson said there is no place for bedside proselytizing or evangelizing. They also should not expect an outcome that meets their own needs.

"God expects us to provide spiritual care, but not be caught up in whether the outcome is positive or not," she said.

In the end, patients will remember the caring they received more than the care.

"Those are the stories you want told about you in years to come," Carson said. "They don't tell stories about our taking their blood pressure."

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