The physician’s role in providing spiritual care

“Spiritual beliefs and values often shape one’s understandings of health, disease, and healing, and thus can influence healthcare decision-making as well as one’s ability to cope with illness, dying, and death.”

Dr. Christina Puchalski from The George Washington University Medical Center addresses what’s involved in serving patients and providing compassionate care.

Physicians can begin with the following:

  • Practice compassionate presence: Be attentive, and support them in all aspects of their suffering ? physical, emotional, and spiritual
  • Listen to their fears, hopes, pain, and dreams
  • Obtain a spiritual history
  • Incorporate spiritual practices as appropriate
  • Involve chaplains as members of the healthcare team

Dr. Puchalski warns healthcare providers to be aware of professional boundaries. “In-depth spiritual counseling should occur under the direction of chaplains and other spiritual leaders, as they are the experts. The physician should not initiate prayer with patients, as this blurs the boundary of physician and clergy.” Furthermore, “If the patient requests prayer, the physician can stand by in silence as the patient prays, or contact the chaplain.”

A previous post reported on the extent of prayer as a form of CAM among Americans. Patients come to physicians to seek care for their medical condition. Physicians should be respectful and understand the spiritual dimension in patients? lives. Going beyond that is not appropriate.

7/11/06 00:27 JR

Hi, I’m JR

John Russo, Jr., PharmD, is president of The MedCom Resource, Inc. Previously, he was senior vice president of medical communications at, a complementary and alternative medicine website.