Book Review - Positive Spirituality In Health Care

January-February 2012


Mill City Press
412 pages, $21.95

"We all have the power within us for doing good."
The Venerable Mary Potter, founder, Little Company of Mary Sisters 

I begin this review with this quote from the founder of an international community of women religious because it captures a continuous thread that runs through Positive Spirituality in Health Care. The author, Frederic C. Craigie, Jr., not only encourages all caregivers to support patients, their families and their colleagues through deeper conversations, but also challenges us to notice how often we are already doing it and to recognize the significance of the outcomes.

Craigie is a list-maker, as his subtitle indicates. In his first four chapters, he cites four research studies on spirituality (cross-sectional studies, longitudinal studies, meta-analytic reviews and intervention studies) demonstrating the positive medical and emotional health outcomes of people who attest to a strong faith life, religious connections, awareness of being prayed for, and so on. He also provides a number of definitions and dimensions of spirituality and invites us to reflect on what it means and why it matters. He expresses great confidence in the idea that we have opportunities to open spiritual conversations with patients. Unexpectedly, he writes, our seemingly non-spiritual questions may open windows on patients' thoughts about meaning and purpose in the context of their immediate health realities.

In a particularly helpful section, Craigie frames "three arenas of spiritual care": the personal, the clinical and the organizational, arenas that offer opportunities for formation in working with staff, managers, executives and physicians. For example, he quotes pediatrician Robert A. Prendergast, MD, on the personal arena:

"I have to be a person of integrity,
grounded in compassion and
the intention to be a channel
of healing for my patients …
it starts with me."

In exploring the clinical arena, Craigie emphasizes the significance of an earlier definition of spirituality: "helping patients connect with the things that really matter to them." He provides many anecdotal examples of how physicians and health care workers facilitate discussions with patients through intention and presence even though they may not think of their work with patients in terms of specific "spiritual skills."

He devotes a good amount of attention to spiritual care professionals, those chaplains, clergy and spiritual directors who, by virtue of their background in theology and pastoral education and their training, possess tools for spiritual care, such as an understanding of sacred texts and the ability to plan and oversee sacred rituals. He continues to reiterate, however the ability and opportunity for all health care workers — not just these "spiritual experts" — to positively contribute to spiritual relationships with their patients.

In the organizational arena, the "organizational soul" addresses the culture of a place and questions around mission integration, staff empowerment, patient satisfaction and quality outcomes. Having worked in health care myself for more than 30 years, I know that the spiritual environment of the workplace affects every person and every outcome. Craigie cites research studies to back that up, demonstrating the importance of organizational spirituality in developing "soulful organizations."

As Chapters 5 through 10 unfold, they provide abundant resources for any health care leader, physician and staff person. These include strategies, templates and goals. Examples of narrative exchanges between patient and providers invite readers to reflect on the possibility of missed opportunities in their own encounters.

The final four chapters continue to teach, remind and encourage through examples: quotes from many beloved authors, humanitarians and human rights activists demonstrating that our own humanity and lived experiences, coupled with our clinical and professional backgrounds, give us not only the "stuff" we need to be spiritual healers, but the responsibility as well.


MARY JO QUICK is vice president, mission and spirituality, Little Company of Mary Hospital and Health Care Centers, Evergreen Park, Ill.


Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Book Review - Positive Spirituality in Health Care - Nine Practical Approaches to Pursuing Wholeness

Copyright © 2012 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.