Lecture – Spirituality and Health – Research Findings From Serious Illness to Well Populations

Available with English captions.

Presented by Tracy A. Balboni, MD, MPH, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute – Visiting Scholar Series lecture

Balboni defines spirituality as the dynamic and intrinsic aspect of humanity through which persons seek ultimate meaning, purpose, and transcendence. Spirituality, she says, defines how individuals experience relationships to self, family, others, community, society, nature, and the significant or sacred. Spirituality is expressed through beliefs, values, traditions, and practices.

In this lecture, Balboni explores the history, research findings, and future directions of the role of spirituality in medical care and health outcomes.

Watch now to learn more about:

  • The historical relationship between spirituality and the practice of medicine in the Western healing tradition
  • The current relationship between spirituality and medicine
  • Research into the role of spirituality in addressing illnesses and the impact of spiritual care on patient outcomes
  • How to analyze and apply data on religious community participation and mortality, health behaviors, and mental health outcomes

Balboni discusses the different ways that the intersection of spirituality and medicine have been portrayed across time in Western culture. For the most part, she says, Western culture has kept spiritual traditions and medical care separate. Her historical overview provides context, helping us to better understand the current relationship of spirituality and the practice of medicine.

In addition to a look at history, Balboni reviews quantitative and qualitative data on the impact of spiritual and religious coping on individuals with serious medical illnesses. Also, she cites studies into the ways that participation in religious communities can impact mortality, health behaviors, and mental health outcomes. This research focuses on the impact of spiritual care on depression, PTSD, and completed suicide.

Balboni also reviews research findings indicating that medical patients have strong spiritual needs. These studies suggest that addressing these needs can influence health decisions and improve quality of life.

Balboni concludes her talk by asserting that “whole patient care” requires incorporating spirituality into regular medical care. She calls for health care professionals to refer patients to spiritual community leaders and incorporate spirituality into palliative care guidelines.

Also, Balboni suggests that family members, clinicians, and the medical community in general could benefit from spiritual practices. Incorporating spiritual elements into care can promote a sense of resilience and help caregivers cope with the challenges of helping those in need.