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Posted: February 04, 2005

Spiritual Caregiving

The Value of Spiritual Care in Life and Death


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 call 1-800-850-5888.

-- Margaret McKegney


Physician, Assess Thyself . . . And Let's All Join Them

Before doctors can incorporate spirituality into their practices, they need to understand their own spiritual beliefs, values, and biases, counsels the journal American Family Physician.

A good way to do this, say Brown University School of Medicine?s Gowri Anandaraha, M.D., and Ellen Hight, M.D., M.P.H., is to self-administer the same spiritual assessment they recommend for use with patients. It's a useful tool for all of us, and the acronym to remember it by is HOPE. Here are the elements:

H(ope): What are your sources of hope, meaning, comfort, strength, peace, love, and connection?

O(rganized religion): Do you consider yourself a part of organized religion?

P(ersonal spirituality and practices): Do you have personal spiritual beliefs that are independent of organized religion?

E(ffects on medical care and end-of-life issues): What effect has your current situation had on your spiritual practices?

Researchers are coming to believe that the taking of spiritual histories is not only helpful for planning treatment, but also beneficial in itself. "Unlike most other aspects of the medical history," says Duke's Dr. Harold G. Koenig, "simply taking a spiritual history is often the intervention." (See American Family Physician, January 1, 2001.)

-- The Editors of Spirituality & Health


Book Review: Sacred Dying: Creating Rituals for Embracing the End of Life

By Megory Anderson
(Marlowe & Company 04/04 Hardcover $15.95)

?People need and want to die with a clear conscience, with a feeling that the burdens of this life are past, and with a knowledge that their wishes will be granted,? writes Megory Anderson, a theologian, educator, and liturgist who runs the nonprofit Sacred Dying Foundation in San Francisco. In this accessible and practical resource, the author shares rituals she's designed over the years to help individuals in the process of dying. Thomas Moore has written a thoughtful foreword.

Many members of the Baby Boom generation have created special rituals for their marriages and the births of their children. Now they are looking to bring the same kinds of spiritual dimensions to the time surrounding the dying of a loved one. Anderson provides plenty of ideas in Sacred Dying, beginning with the creation of a sacred space for the person who is about to cross over to the other side. She suggests incorporating religious symbols that might have meaning for the individual. She then discusses the importance of cleansing the place; containing the space; diffusing outside noises; and incorporating smells, music, and prayers.

Two of the richest chapters are on rituals to release emotional grief and rituals to comfort the body. In the first, Anderson reveals the need for the dying person to let go of burdens of anger, guilt, and unfinished business. In the second, she shows the healing beauty of touch. Sitting vigil is an honor that demands reverence and openness to what arises in the moment. The dying person's wishes are always paramount.

Sacred Dying also includes chapters on dying alone, ending life support, and the period after death until the funeral. Anderson concludes with appropriate readings, prayers, poems, songs, and texts for use in the rituals.

-- Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, media editors for Spirituality & Health

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

© 2005 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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