In my experience as a psychologist, I hear people often hesitant to share about their spirituality and many acknowledging they have never been asked about it, nor discussed it, with their healthcare practitioners before. I wonder what is behind this? How come many healthcare practitioners are reluctant to discuss spirituality?
I honestly don’t have clear answers for this because, despite being a psychologist, I can’t get into the head of all of my fellow providers out there. However, I suspect that our personal and professional training is a big contributing factor. We are often taught that, to avoid conflict, not to talk about politics or religion. This can carry into our professional life too. As healthcare is about building rapport and engaging with people, there may be hesitation to introduce a topic that can be fraught with tension, conflict, and resentment. Professionally, we are not educated on how to ask such questions in a way that maintains, and even builds, rapport and connection so the questions go unasked and the topic goes unexplored.
Does not exploring spirituality do a disservice to the people we are trying to support? I believe it does. Whether people have strong convictions that they are passionate and engaged with or resentment, confusion, anger, or even hatred, most people have thoughts and feelings tied to spirituality. This is a part of who they are and exploring it can provide insight to where they are at and how they approach the world. For some, this issue may be causing so much agitation that it is leading to the mental or physical health symptoms we are looking to treat. Without exploration of the spiritual foundation, the healthcare provider will find themselves treating acute symptoms rather than the fundamental problem.
If you are a healthcare provider, I would encourage you to start asking the people you work with where they are at with their spirituality. This can open up the door to exploring their feelings about spirituality, how they practice it, their beliefs on spirituality vs. religion, and family history of beliefs, values, and practices. I find these conversations help build connection and rapport with the people I am seeing and can foster respect and appreciation that I am willing to discuss difficult, uncomfortable topics with them. This can then open up sharing of topics they find difficult and uncomfortable and may not have otherwise shared.
If you are seeing a healthcare provider, I encourage you to bring up your spiritual beliefs, questions, confusions, certainties, and feelings and see how your provider reacts. This will provide you information about where they are at and how they can support you and any gaps that exist in that.
By Paige Abbott
Registered Psychologist at www.holisticpsychologycalgary.com