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Spiritual Care integral to holistic approach across allied health


Jessica Nelson
13 August 2018

What do you believe in? In countries such as Indonesia, asking about a person’s spirituality is as common as asking their profession.

In other places such as Australia, the topic is still taboo, though one allied health professional has set out to challenge the norm.

Southern Cross University Associate Professor Bernice Mathisen, based at the Gold Coast campus, has worked as a speech-language pathologist for 45 years and says providing spiritual care is an integral part of delivering person-centred holistic care.

The Senior Lecturer in the School of Health and Human Sciences and her co-author Dr Lindsay Carey from La Trobe University recently launched their book Spiritual Care for Allied Health Practice: A Person-Centered Approach at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.

It is the first textbook of its kind to be released across various allied health disciplines specifically dealing with the structures and processes that give a person meaning and purpose in life.

“I think this is a topic that is only going to develop and grow as people accept it’s okay to talk about it,” Professor Mathisen said.

“A lot of times we miss the point. For the professionals working in allied health, the question is not about what you believe, it’s about what the person in front of you believes. Instead of saying ‘Hi I’m the physiotherapist here to help your recovery’ it’s about saying ‘Who are you? What’s important to you? Now, I’ll help you recover.’

“Some cultures are very driven by their belief systems. However, even if people do not consider themselves to be a person of faith or part of a specific religion, oftentimes there is something else they believe in or feel strongly about whether it be their family or friends, or the connection they feel to nature, such as when they see a sunset or experience the surf at daybreak.

“In countries such as India, everything about life and even breathing is related to spirituality, even in the poorest areas. We want people from other cultures to feel accepted when they come here to Australia and what they believe in should not be ignored or suddenly become unimportant to those health care professionals who deal with them. Spirituality is an essential part of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people which is closely connected with health and wellbeing.”

Professor Mathisen hopes to see spiritual care practices incorporated into the curriculum for allied health students in the future.

“Our book outlines evidence-based research and explains why it is so important for any allied health professional to assist with the provision of spiritual care for patients and how to do so. This is a research area that will continue to develop,” she said.

Professor Mathisen said some allied health professions such as occupational therapists and those in social work are often very comfortable with the holistic Spiritual Care approach, though others in areas such as audiology and speech-language pathology have experienced a slower uptake.

“So far, paramedicine professionals have been very interested as they’re dealing with life and death situations on a daily basis, so they were right into this as a concept and a tool to use,” she said.

“The contributors to the book explain how spiritual care can be applied to each specialist area, which will help allied health professionals understand how to give clients the complete care that they deserve.”

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