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Spirituality in Nursing

Science vs. Spirituality

Published June 15, 2016 10:57 AM by Mark Darby
Read this quote below first as a caregiver and then as a scientist and we will see the debate about spirituality in the scientific literature

"This is the first resting-state fMRI study demonstrating altered functional connectivity in the DMN among meditation practitioners.  In the current study, meditators showed heightened activation of the DMN in the MPFC. This finding is consistent with previous studies that have reported that structural and functional changes in the medial prefrontal areas are associated with meditation." (Jang et al, 2011, page 358)

Wow! What a mouthful. Real people don't talk this way. The abbreviation DMN is the Default Mode Network which is the area of the brain that supports "internal mentation" or thinking that is not concerned with the outside world. It is the area stimulated with self-reflective thoughts. It's the part of the brain associated with self -esteem and self-image.

The quote basically says that meditation changes your brain-not just lowers blood pressure or heart rate.

Direct care givers will say, "At last validation." Studies such as this are part of the growing proof that spirituality works.

On the other hand, scientists will say, "Remember statistics class?" This study involved only 35 people and a control group of 33. Respectable sample size but you don't change treatment guidelines over such numbers.  Many scientists are concerned that such studies will be used to justify treating illness ONLY with prayer and medication.  Direct care givers will respond to this by saying spirituality is one of many treatment modalities that work.

We have fallen into a debate where one side says "Medication not Meditation" and the other says "Meditation and Medication."

This debate is a rabbit hole if we think we have to fall on one side or the other. As caregivers and scientists we must guard against forcing our subjective experiences onto our patients when we don't have objective support. At the same time, we use all kinds of treatments which do not have double blind random controlled studies for support. So the question is: how do we more fully integrate spirituality into treatment and do so in a responsible and ethical manner?

We have to be both scientist and direct caregiver and pray we have the strength and integrity to perform both roles at the same time.


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