Spiritual Principles

Barriers to Spiritual Care: Lack of Expertise

A lack of expertise is a common reason given as to why medical providers fail to provide spiritual care. According to one survey, a lack of expertise or experience accounted for the second most common barrier for doing spiritual care followed by a lack of time.[1]

Perhaps more important than this is our perspective on spiritual care. Suppose you are sitting on a bench reading a book on a Sunday afternoon. An elderly man with groceries crosses the street. He is actually jaywalking and can’t see the truck barreling down the road around the bend. However, due to your vantage point you can see both the elderly man crossing and the oncoming truck on a crash collision.

You look around and realize you are the only person who sees this disaster unfolding. Only you can do something about in order to keep this man from meeting an untimely death.

Would you say to yourself the following?

You know I’m not an expert in situations like this. I just haven’t received the proper training. I can’t competently intervene so I’m not going to do anything.

Or would you say the following?

I’m not sure what to say in this situation. If only, I knew what words to say to effectively have this man avoid untimely death then I would say it. Unfortunately, since I don’t want to risk offending this man I’m going to stay silent.

Or would you say this?

I really wish I could get around to warning this man, but I just don’t have the time right now. I really need to finish this book by the end of the day.

It’s hard to imagine any decent human being behaving in any of the above scenarios. You may not have the expertise, you may not have the right words, you may even be running short on time, but you would not hesitate at all to warn this man.

In fact, you would probably take all means necessary. You might wave your hands wildly. You would might yell or shout. You wouldn’t worry about whether or not you said the right words but rather whether or not this man got off the street!

In the same way, there is a truck barreling down on each of our patients. They are all are on an inevitable crash course with eternity. At the point of collision their eternal destinies will have been settled.

How will we as Christian medical providers have fared? Will we have done our part to meet the spiritual needs of the patients? Or will they ask us, Why didn’t you say something?

[1] Ellis MR, Vinson DC, Ewigman B Addressing spiritual concerns of patients: family physicians’ attitudes and practices. J Fam Pract. 1999 Feb;48(2):105-9

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