Renewed focus on spirituality applauded

There is evidence that the attitude towards spirituality and health is changing says Health Promotion Forum’s deputy chair Richard Egan.   Mr Egan who is a lecturer in health promotion at the Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago made the comment after returning from the 6th European Conference on Religion, Spirituality and Health and the 5th International Conference of the British Association for the Study of Spirituality from May 17 to 19  at Coventry University in the UK. The theme was forgiveness. Mr Egan says when working with people and populations, there is a strong argument to include the spiritual dimension. “Sitting within such models as Te Whare Tapa Wha, Fono Fale, total care and person-centred approaches, spirituality has often been overlooked. There is some evidence that this is changing,” he says. “I have been working in the spirituality and research area for over a decade and applaud this renewed focus on forgiveness as an important element of spiritual care.” Mr Egan says forgiveness has a long religious spiritual history, but a range of researchers have examined it in healthcare and developed therapeutic and educational forgiveness resources. “In healthcare there is evidence that blame and guilt are common and has debilitating effects among healthcare professionals,” he says. “American psychologist Professor Robert Enright argues, with research to support his claims that behind what he calls secondary effects such as anxiety, depression and even suicide is a primary effect of anger due to injustice. This primary effect it is suggested, is causal in the pathway of many illnesses, through immune system responses.“ Mr Egan says key authors in the field have developed theory-based interventions and education projects that enable people to deal with injustice. However he points out that what this work does not do is challenge top-down policy, structures and practice that proliferates injustice and inequity. “Perhaps forgiveness education may act in time as a bottom-up impetus for change. But certainly spirituality and its component forgiveness have place in ongoing transformation. “   Richard Egan is  is a lecturer in health promotion, based in the Cancer Society Social and Behavioural Research Unit, Department of Preventive & Social Medicine, Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago. Mr Egan’s Master’s thesis examined spirituality in New Zealand state schools, his PhD thesis explored spirituality in end-of-life care and he has qualifications in theology, English literature, religious studies, and public health.