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Advocate Health Care

More than half the medical schools in America now offer courses teaching how to talk with patients about faith and illness. Just ten years ago, only three schools offered such instruction.

Scientists have discovered that meditation can change brain activity and actually improve immune response, and since most religions incorporate meditative practices like chanting or prayer into their traditions, the leap from the value of meditation to the value of faith is a short one.

Studies show there are associations between religion and health, but they cannot definitively claim a direct link. There is a widely accepted evidence that religious affiliation and membership benefit health by promoting healthy behavior and lifestyles. Just the same, people are not likely to choose religion for the sake of health any more than a man would choose marriage to improve the likelihood of longer life.

Even non-believers have difficulty arguing with the value of religion:
● Worship and prayer bring about thoughts of hope and positive emotions.
● Religious fellowship offers support to buffer the effects of stress and isolation.
● Religions offer healthy social and moral teachings.
It’s no wonder that there is a growing belief in the medical community that what happens in a person’s mind (and perhaps soul) can be as important to health as what happens on a cellular level. Turning doctors into clergy is not the objective, but patients do respond when doctors connect with them on a deeper level than just their cholesterol. 72% of Americans say they would welcome a conversation with their physicians about faith (US News & World Reports, Nov. 10, 2006).

One idea is for physicians to talk with their patients to determine whether religion might help them cope or heal. If so, then chaplains and local clergy become part of the process. Some go as far as suggesting that clergy or chaplains become more integrated in the processes of discharge planning, providing spiritual assessment of incoming patients, and even morning rounds.

The link between religion and health has important implications - especially with limited access to health care and the growing number of elderly. Clearly, faith is a resource not to be overlooked in the medical world.