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Spirituality in Nursing

Spirituality and the Glass

Published July 14, 2016 8:37 AM by Mark Darby

"Is the glass half full or half empty?" is an often asked question. What is not often asked is how do you feel about your glass? Do you mourn the loss of half of your water, or are you happy to have as much water as you do? What are you willing to do to gain back the other half of your glass?

These are not meaningless questions. Rather, this is very important. Pretend the glass is actually a measure of health status. How would a patient feel if they had half of the health they had 10 years ago?  How would this perception change if...

  • The patient just finished a 5-year fight with breast cancer?
  • The patient was 100 years old? 20 years old?
  • The patient refuses to give up smoking 3 packs per day?

As you can see, how a patient feels about the level of liquid in their glass depends on their reference point. This idea has been well researched by Tversky and Kahneman and many others.

What has not been so well researched is how spirituality affects these reference points. Changes in reference points can have dramatic effects in important health decisions. It seems to me that the most important effect of spirituality in healthcare is in how people make decisions and find the energy to carry out these decisions. 

Others may say that miracles are the most important aspect of spirituality in healthcare. We have all heard stories of people diagnosed with incurable cancer one day and then are miraculously cured the next. While these stories are not to be disregarded, I prefer to explore ways that spirituality can be replicated in a more predictable fashion.

In my diet class, which uses spirituality to help people plan what they eat (described in a previous column), a woman who weighed 280 pounds (BMI above 39) for years came to the class. She worked the program for 2 months and lost 8 pounds. One weekend, she went to several parties and gained back the weight. Her only statement to the class was, "I know I can lose this weight now, because I have done it. I am not discouraged." This is a change for her. She shared this experience with others in the class, and they felt hopeful. Her reference point changed through spirituality.

Next month I will talk more about Tversky and Kahneman and spirituality.

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