Spirituality and healing in medical practice

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The religiously active have a markedly better life expectancy, according to a recent study in Health Psychology magazine. In an analysis of 42 studies covering more than 125,000 people, the new survey found that those who regularly attend religious services and rank faith high in their priorities have a 29 percent better chance of living longer.

This was one of many new findings presented at the Spirituality and Healing in Medicine Course in Boston this week. Hosted by Herbert Benson, MD of Harvard Medical Schoool and president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Boston, speakers explored the relationship between spirituality and healing in medical practice.

Faith has long been considered the "forgotten factor," says Dr. David Larson, president and primary founder of the National Institute for Healthcare Research (NIHR) in Rockville, Md. Ten percent of patients with serious illnesses have the spirituality factor addressed by their physicians, he says, but 60 to 70 percent would like it addressed. The medical establishment is responding to this demand, and now 72 of the 125 undergraduate medical schools in the US run courses on how to deal with patients' spiritual concerns.

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One element that helped put prayer research on the map, he adds, was the influx of women into the medical field as physicians in the '70s and '80s. "There was a real receptivity there," he says.

Another factor in this shift is the removal of walls between medicine and spiritual healing. Virginia Harris, chairman of the Board of Directors of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, which publishes this newspaper, told course attendees, "It's becoming clear that medicine and religion are entering a new dynamic of mutual respect and inquiry. This is a convergence - not a collision - and it will determine the future of healthcare."

Several new publications and awards have helped solidify this convergence. Last month, Oxford University Press published the "Handbook of Religion and Health," which is a compendium of research in the field. A new monthly newsletter about research in science and theology, sponsored by the Templeton Foundation, was first published in September. And this year, NIHR instituted its first award for the best programs on spirituality in primarycare residency training.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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