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Spiritual care for the sick

Spiritual Care of the sick is a new field in Applied Spirituality. Professor Eckhard Frick SJ is a doctor, psychoanalyst and psychiatrist and the first Professor of Spiritual Care in Europe in the University of Munich. He was in All Hallows College, Dublin recently to give a public talk on this new field and health care professionals and members of the public packed the venue. He also spoke to Pat Coyle of Jesuit Communications in an interview for local radio stations which you can listen to here.

Professor Frick makes several key points when referring to the importance of Spiritual Care of the sick and dying. Firstly he points out it’s not a job that should be left only to the hospital Chaplain. He says Spiritual Care is something all the professionals involved in looking after a patient, should be involved in. That’s because it stems from a recognition that every patient is more than just a body and whilst it’s important to treat the body, it is vital that the patient is treated as a person. That means their spiritual needs must be catered for in multi-disciplinary approach that is patient-centred and focussed on authentic dialogue with the person who is ill.

The way this dialogue can be best facilitated is through a simple questionnaire developed in the USA and now widely used to great effect in many hospital settings, finding out where the patient is in regard to their own spiritual needs and understanding. It allows the person to state their needs and be honest about what they are experiencing. It helps the health care professional to honour where their patient is at and respond to them accordingly.

Professor Frick says there are many studies which show that people who have a spiritual perspective on their health fare better than those who don’t; but the principal argument for the promotion of Spiritual Care should not be utilitarian but rather a question of the absolute right of every human to the best standard of holistic treatment that can be offered.

This means that nurses, doctors, psychotherapists, social workers and other health care professionals all have a role to play and the plurality of spiritualities that may be manifest has to be acknowledged and honoured. To this end training is necessary, but the investment is well worth it, as preliminary studies suggest, with patients reporting significant satisfaction with their overall treatment and hospitals noting the cost-effective dimension of this type of care.