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How Pastoral Care Can Help With Spiritual Needs During Recovery

Patient and Pastoral Care Member Talking

When you are recovering from surgery, no matter what type of procedure it was, it can be challenging. While physical discomfort can be addressed with medication, the way you position yourself, rest, and exercises described by your doctor, sometimes other issues leave one wondering how to cope.

For most people, religious belief and practice is one of their major resources to help them cope with illness. Even for those who are not religious, spirituality, including the search for meaning and hope, is often central to their quality of life particularly when facing a recovery period.

Here are suggestions to try that you may not have thought of, but no one can determine what is right for you except you.

1. A good starting place is to think about how you have coped with adversity in the past and the role that religious and spiritual resources played in that coping. Did you pray or meditate more? Did you read? Did you go to worship or talk to a leader of your faith group? Did you listen to music or go for walks?

2. Next, you might think about what part of your belief and practice is less helpful or problematic now. Do you find it difficult to pray? Has your illness made it difficult for you to be a part of your religious community? Do you have doubts about the goodness or helpfulness of the Higher Power you believe in? Coming to understand where your beliefs and practices may have broken down is the first step to finding new ways of using them to your full advantage.

3. What are the resources you can call upon? Again, no particular resource will work for or is right for everyone. This is only a suggestion. The most widely used resource is prayer. Many people are helped by expanding their concept of what prayer is. Prayer can be very formal and structured or completely informal. It can consist of the prayers of our faith tradition we learned as children, or a simple conversation between us and that which is beyond us. It can contain words or sounds or be totally silent. It can be simply allowing that which is beyond us to be present to us and speak to us. If the practice allows you to feel better, what you call it is irrelevant.

4. Many people find reading the sacred texts of their faith tradition helpful. Again, there are a myriad of books, CDs, and podcasts which contain different types of readings on spiritual topics. Try a few and see if they help.

5. You may want to seek out a religious professional who is trained to help people use their own religious and spiritual resources to cope with illness. One option, if you don’t have a faith leader to call on, is to seek out a spiritual director or pastoral counselor in your community. All accredited hospitals are required to provide chaplains to serve the spiritual and religious needs of their patients, in both inpatient and outpatient settings. Let the hospital know that you prefer a chaplain who is board certified by a national accrediting association, just as are the chaplains at Hospital for Special Surgery.

These chaplains are trained to be present with you where you are and be respectful of whatever your personal beliefs and practices are. They will be happy to help you no matter what your faith or lack of faith. They sign a code of ethics which prohibits them from imposing their own beliefs on you.

The most important message is, if religious or spiritual resources have been important to you in the past and they are not working for you now in a way you would like, seek help either on your own or through others.

Spiritual pain, like physical pain, can be relieved.

Sister Margaret Oettinger is the Director of Pastoral Care at Hospital for Special Surgery.

The information provided in this blog by HSS and our affiliated physicians is for general informational and educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual problem you may have. This information is not a substitute for the professional judgment of a qualified health care provider who is familiar with the unique facts about your condition and medical history. You should always consult your health care provider prior to starting any new treatment, or terminating or changing any ongoing treatment. Every post on this blog is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the official position of HSS. Please contact us if we can be helpful in answering any questions or to arrange for a visit or consult.