Book Review

Treating Body And Soul:
A Clinician's Guide to Supporting the Physical, Mental, and Spiritual Needs of Their Patients

Edited by Peter Wells
Jessica Kingsley Publishers (21 July 2017)
ISBN: 978-1785921483  

Book CoverHow ought clinicians support the physical, mental and spiritual needs of their patients? I found this book extremely helpful in answering the question. A variety of different disciplines are presented including old age medicine, paediatrics and gynaecology. The editor is a hospital chaplain with over twenty years of experience. The writers have different backgrounds with some holding religious beliefs and others not.

The chapter on mental health was especially useful. It is quite a challenge in a field where research shows that the patients are more religious than the clinicians. However, spirituality is different from religion.

Spirituality is something everyone can experience. It helps give meaning and purpose to things we value. It can provide hope and healing in the face of loss and suffering. It can provide the impetus to seek the best relationship with ourselves and others. Based on this definition, there is likely to be a good deal of overlap between spirituality and mental health. 

The author argues that the elucidation of the spiritual needs of the patient is indicative of good quality care. According to the Mental Health Foundation, spirituality can help people maintain good mental health. It can help people cope with everyday stress. There is some evidence of links between spirituality and improvement in people's mental health.

Clinicians need to acknowledge spirituality in people's lives, provide opportunities for staff and service users to express their spirituality and incorporate spiritual needs in person-centred planning.

The motivation for clinicians asking about the spiritual needs of their patients must be to develop a more holistic understanding of the patient context. The psychiatrist is called to take the spiritual beliefs of their patients seriously and engage with empathy. The author suggests a spiritual history including such questions as: Are you religious or spiritual? What helps you most when things are difficult?

I am not sure about these questions. The mental state of many patients that psychiatrists assess these days are likely to be of such a disturbed state that the patients are unlikely to make sense of them at least when acutely ill.

This proved an interesting read with many things to think about.

Reviewed by Dr Pravin Thevathasan