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Posted: October 29, 2004

Spiritual Caregiving

The New World of Medicine

(Editor's Note: One of the most exciting developments of the last decade has been the growing appreciation among traditional physicians of the spiritual aspects of health and well-being. These two articles mark important milestones as we move toward a truly integrative model of medicine.)

The Word that Best Describes a Great Doctor?

It's...Beginner. No kidding! And this is straight from the Journal of the American Medical Association.

But the author, Dr. Ronald M. Epstein, isn't coming out in favor of inexperience. What he's recommending is more likely to be found in Zen teachings than in medical textbooks: beginner's mind - an openness to experience and humility in the face of challenges that Epstein considers a vital aspect of "mindful practice."

He sees mindfulness as an antidote to the economic pressures that break down the doctor/patient relationship, and shut out the deeper wisdom that informs good medical practice.

For Epstein, the mindful practitioner has the "courage to see the world as it is, rather than as one would have it be." He "is present in everyday experience, in all of its manifestations, including actions, thoughts, sensations, images, interpretations, and emotions."

To the harried physician he advises, "Mindfulness is the opposite of multitasking. It enhances professionalism by helping doctors keep their balance in those uncertain, emotionally charged situations that invite mistakes."

To learn mindfulness, Epstein suggests that physicians keep journals, learn to meditate, and review videotapes of their own interactions with patients. He also stresses the importance of mentoring, citing as an example a time when a mentor helped a young doctor to "center" before confronting an angry patient.

So the next time your doctor keeps you and your elderly loved one waiting, before you get annoyed, just think: maybe she's meditating.

-- The Editors


Get This! Spiritual Care for a $10 Co-Pay

It was bound to happen, and thank goodness it has: Sloans Lake Managed Care, a Denver-based insurer, has become the first U.S. company to pay for spiritual interventions.

"We created this program because we felt that a missing part of the treatment of healthcare, from a reimbursement point of view, was spiritual," says Neil Waldron , the company's president and CEO. "It costs almost nothing [for companies] to add and it's really a neglected part of the overall treatment of a person."

The biggest challenge Sloans Lake faced at first was defining exactly what the product would be. The company organized a task force of representatives from Denver's spiritual community to help out, and in the end came up with two broad definitions for outpatient counseling services: Spiritual Guidance, which helps individuals better understand their spiritual lives and how that relates to their lives as a whole; and Spiritual Counseling, which incorporates beliefs and faith into therapy to help individuals, families, or groups cope with particular crises or the general pressures of life.

Sloans Lake then put together a network of nondenominational providers for members and set up a $10 co-payment for six visits per calendar year.

Having launched the benefits program a little over a year ago, Waldron expects about 100 customers out of a membership of 70,000 to use it this year. "It's a benefit that's not extensively utilized because it tends to be used around a personal crisis," says Waldron. He's been pleased by the positive reaction of the spiritual community at large to the new program, but "we haven't heard any reaction from the insurance companies. I'm kind of puzzled by the silence."

Dr. Herbert Benson, president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, isn't surprised. He has devoted a great deal of time to advocate the value of spirituality and healing in medicine to insurance companies around the nation. "They are listening, but they don't have plans to implement anything yet. Any new initiative draws hesitancy from people who only practice routine measures," he said. "It's just a matter of time, but one has to keep up the efforts of educating people."

For further information on Sloans Lake 's spiritual care services, see the company's website or call 1-800-850-5888.

-- Margaret McKegney

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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