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Gary Jones

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Spirituality: A Powerful Factor for Health Care Reform

Posted: 05/25/10 11:54 AM ET

According to a Thomson Reuters survey published earlier this month, Americans are continuing to lose confidence in their ability to obtain health care and pay for it -- despite the President's signing of one of the most comprehensive health care reform packages ever.

The crisis in health care is all too familiar: prohibitive costs, lack of access to care through insurance, medical mistakes, and inconsistent quality of care. Even so, in 2009 the United States spent about $2.5 trillion on health care, more than $8,000 per person.

At the same time, there are signs that people are depending less on the traditional health care system to take care of their every need. In 2007 Americans spent $33.9 billion out of pocket on a variety of health care products and services not considered to be part of conventional medicine.

People are taking more responsibility for their own health. They've seen that what they're thinking and doing has an effect on how they feel. So they've been looking at changing their values and lifestyles. Focusing on ways to stay healthy and well -- and acting on them. By holding qualities like love and peace in thought, people are finding that they experience a more harmonious and healthy body. A good number of churches are conducting spiritual healing services. And medical studies are pointing to a connection between mind and body.

"It is clear from the literature," says Penn State's Dr. David Hufford, author of a key Analysis of the Field of Spirituality, Religion and Health, "that many in research, in health care, in the public, and in government, believe that important positive connections have been established [among spirituality, religion and health] and should be vigorously studied. It is also clear that others are unconvinced and even hostile to the subject."

"It is not surprising," he says, "that such a deeply felt subject should be controversial when it makes its way into a field such as medicine." He concludes, however, that "there actually can be no serious question about whether religion and spirituality have important connections to health."

On Capitol Hill, over the past year, there was strong support for including a provision for spiritual care in the health care reform legislation; regrettably, however, the provision was ultimately removed. The public deserve to have spiritual care included as one of the health care options covered. Many people would say that spirituality has enabled them to experience better health and much good in their life. I count myself among them.

I appreciate spirituality in care because it's intuitive and deeply individual. For me, it's about one's relationship with God. It's also about what brings deepest meaning to life. Spirituality is easily accessible to everyone, regardless of their income or medical history, and evidently imparts a healthy stimulus to the body.

Like the 36 percent of Americans who say they've experienced or seen healing through prayer, my lifestyle of spirituality includes the practice of healing through prayer. I've found that prayer "works."

For years, I've consistently relied on the distinctive prayer-based system of spiritual care and religion called Christian Science. (Christian Science is not Scientology.) Because I've experienced healing when faced with health and other challenges, it was natural for me to turn to this system of care again -- and not to other forms of treatment -- when a painful and fairly large lump appeared on my neck, almost overnight, some years ago. Swallowing and eating became increasingly difficult. I was very concerned. I was facing a serious threat to my health and life.

I began to pray for a better understanding of my true spiritual nature. I studied selections from the Bible and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy, including her foundational book Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Eddy was a 19th-century pioneer in the field of spirituality, health, and healing, who discovered Christian Science. I earnestly contemplated what these books teach of my oneness with my Father-Mother, God. Actually, doing this was my principal activity over the next five days.

I also asked a friend, who is an experienced public practitioner of Christian Science, to give me specific daily treatment through prayer. Usually we spoke by telephone and communicated by email a few times a day.

By requesting prayer "treatment," I mean that I needed a paradigm shift. Christian Science brings a shift of this kind to every case of healing. It regards thought as the patient in all cases -- whether involving illness, conflict, loss, etc. And it recommends the advantages of shifting thought away from a focus on the immediate picture of disease, hatred, or destruction, to an entirely spiritual frame of reference. The idea is not to ignore the body or the situation, but to see it from an entirely different perspective, to embrace a model of health, harmony, and wholeness in thought. To affirm one's inseparability from good, inseparability from God, Life, the only cause and creator. That's what the practitioner's prayers and conversations were helping me to achieve.

Mary Baker Eddy writes of Christian Science, "The effect of this Science is to stir the human mind to a change of base, on which it may yield to the harmony of the divine Mind [God]."

Evidently that happened in my case. On the fifth day after the treatment through prayer had started, the pain and fear were suddenly gone. The lump began to recede until it completely disappeared over about three weeks. My friend and I were deeply humbled and grateful.

Many people practice this system of spiritual care on their own. However, Christian Science offers a caring ministry of individuals who are available to help, such as Christian Science practitioners (whose fees range from about $20-45 a day, depending on the locale). There are also Christian Science nurses who provide skilled, nonmedical nursing care, including assistance with mobility, bathing, eating, bandaging, and so on. Services provided by these nurses in Christian Science nursing facilities are reimbursed under Medicare and Medicaid.

Truly, spirituality and spiritual care deserve society's attention. In a way no other modality can, spiritual care ensures health coverage for all Americans who are willing to practice it. It's cost-effective, easily accessible, and delivers positive results.

Although spiritual care has not been recognized as a therapy in the new health care reform law, there's every reason to believe it will be in the future. Even now it's recognized to some extent in a few state and federal laws, and it's been covered for years by some private and government health insurance plans.

Think about it. The practice of spirituality and spiritual care represent an exciting age-old dimension that has the capacity to usher this era into true health care reform.

Gary is a Christian Science practitioner. He is also manager of the Federal Office, Christian Science Committee on Publication, The First Church of Christ, Scientist.