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Introduction: What is the Connection Between Faith & Health?

Americans have long recognized the healing power of faith and prayer. In fact, 82 percent of Americans believe in the healing power of prayer, 64 percent think doctors should pray with those patients who request it, and 63 percent of patients want their doctors to discuss matters of faith. Close to 99 percent of physicians say religious beliefs can make a positive contribution to the healing process. Yet, until recently, most medical studies failed to consider the impact of spirituality in disease prevention or the healing process. Faith was the forgotten factor that was relegated by healthcare providers to the chaplains office.

Fortunately, things are beginning to change. Scientists are finally catching up with what people already knowa personal relationship with God helps us make sense out of illness. It gives hope. It changes health-related behavior and thus reduces the risk of disease.

But faith has an even greater impact. Studies have revealed that faith improves the immune system, enhances healing, reduces complications during major illnesses and much more.

This revolution is impacting the way your healthcare will be delivered, the way your doctor will be trained and the way spiritual issues are addressed at the bedside. And like most revolutions, it started with one person. A faithful Christian, husband, father and CMA member, David Larson trans- formed the field of faith and medicine as Director of the National Institutes of Healthcare Research.

Faiths New Legitmacy in Healthcare

Dr. David Larson and the National Institute of Healthcare Research catalyzed a new interest in faith and health and brought it into the mainstream of medicine in the 1990s. Today more than half of U.S. medical schools have courses in spirituality and medicine, many of which are re- quired. Medical school curricula include1:

  • Teaching students to make a spiritual assessment,

  • Viewing and collaborating with chaplains as relevant part of the health care team,

  • Showing students how to care for dying patients  even when disease specific treatment is no longer available, and

  • Exploring major religions to identify aspects that might affect health care choices, illness coping or social support value.

Medicine has not always recognized the importance of faith. Some have labeled religion as:

  • A psychotic episode.2

  • Temporal lobe dysfunction.3

  • A universal obsessional neurosisinfantile helplessnessa regression to primary narcissism.3

  • Borderline psychosisa regression, an escape, a projection upon the world of a primitive infantile state.4

Secular Definitions of Health Secular definitions of health tend to incorporate both mental and physical well-being, conspicuously omitting any concept of spiritual health. The World Health Organization states, Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.6 Because this view elevates physical health as the ultimate value in human existence, the implications for dealing with birth deformities, handicaps, and end-of-life decisions are profound.

Science has aided the modern preoccupation with physical health, evidenced by a surge in health food prod- ucts, low-fat foods, exercise clubs, and media attention to health issues. Many modern Americans are reminis- cent of the ancient Greeks in their nearly worshipful view of the body.

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