By Colette Hanlon, SC, BCC
The Soul of Medicine: Spiritual Perspectives and Clinical Practice. By John R. Peteet, MD, and Michael N. D’Ambra, MD, (eds.), The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2011. Hardcover, 260 pp. $50.
Chaplains are privileged these days to be in the midst of a healthcare system that is rapidly moving from one of medical paternalism to a more holistic and patient centered calling. The timing is right for physicians and other providers to begin to take seriously how individuals’ values, especially spiritual concerns and practices, affect healing and dying.
With eagerness, then I approached this volume with high expectations of the learning awaiting me and I was not disappointed. It is divided into three parts: the historical and clinical context, major traditions and medicine, and implications and applications. The largest section discusses particular issues relative to a variety of spiritual perspectives. I found some of the material uneven – a few traditions were well written and provided other resources to ponder. Others, particularly the chapter on Christianity, were slim and definitely not descriptive of Catholicism or many strains of Christian practice.
Having addressed this limitation, however, other religions, eclectic and secular essays were more thorough and descriptive of the varieties of spirituality we encounter in our practice. Each one offered insights that are helpful in informing ministry to those not sharing a Christian Catholic practice and understanding. As those we serve increasingly describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” chaplains are called to deepen the capacity to be present as companions on life’s journey.
The final section includes reflections on ethics and the implications for medical professionals, spiritual care and chaplaincy, and how teaching and learning are at the interface of medicine and spirituality. Here readers will find insights into issues they face daily – boundaries and challenges for all healthcare practitioners – and be uplifted by the awareness that medical training is increasingly more focused on spiritual and ethical perspectives.
Until I finished studying the text I was not aware of the cost of this book: $50. The price may be prohibitive for individual chaplains. However, it would make a wonderful resource for libraries and spiritual care departments.
Colette Hanlon is a chaplain at Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, MA.