Holistic Healing: Putting Patients in the Driver’s Seat

Who is in the driver’s seat—is it you or is it your disease process? James Foster, the Clinical Coordinator at Fortis College in Centerville, Ohio, suggests we, as nurses, should equip our patients to be more in control, to be in the driver’s seat. How can this be achieved? By equipping our patients holistically. When patients leave their physicians’ offices with the words “you have diabetes,” the weight of that disease process can take over and drive them down a road of despair. Foster believes that health care providers should equip their patients holistically, so when they leave that physician’s office they are in control.

Foster says we can help change the thought processes of our patients by taking them from victims to victorious. We can begin with spirituality to promote genuine healing. According to Holistic Nursing: A Handbook for Practice, the most basic but least understood aspects of holistic care is spirituality.

As a man of faith, naturally I believe spirituality is essential to our existence. One’s faith can be called upon to aid individuals in their healing process. Current research supports Foster’s holistic approach. There are many spiritual assessment tools used to assess a person’s ability to seek meaning and fulfillment in life, but, in general, it is incumbent upon the individual practitioner to ask if the patient has any ties to a fellowship organization or to notify him or her of additional community support and advocacy groups. These tools are valuable in assessing a person’s strengths, goals, and capacity to pursue personal and community interests. A despondent individual will surely regress much more easily, allowing the disease process to take over. An individual that has something or someone to live for will be in the driver’s seat.

Spiritual practices among African Americans have been shown to enhance coping skills, foster feelings of optimism, promote hope, and reduce feelings of depression. Foster says health care providers should utilize one of the many evidence-based spiritual assessment tools available when conducting a physical assessment. Such evaluation tools can give insight regarding a patient’s attitude, support systems, and future outlook. Assessing these strengths and using these assets can give patients a better foundation and improve their chances of being in control of their disease process than if those spiritual resources go untapped.

Case study

Mrs. Berry, a 71-year-old African American female, was diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension. According to Foster, there are two ways to assess this client. The first way is purely from a physical point of view where the caregivers would speak of the disease process, medications, and the next appointment, but the patient may go home feeling alone and scared. The second way to assess this patient is holistically, by utilizing one of the many evidence-based spiritual assessment tools at our disposal. From this assessment tool we can tap into the patient’s spiritual resources and connect her with those resources. The patient goes home feeling connected, promoting positivity and emotional support that can offer protection against loneliness and depression.

The patient might connect with others also diagnosed with a chronic illness and gain wisdom and insight from their experiences, perhaps through a community support group or online forum. Encouraging our patients to utilize their faith can also influence their health and give them a sense of hope. Studies have shown people with a strong religious and spiritual foundation heal faster after surgery, have lower blood pressure, and cope better with chronic illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. If we help our patients tap into these spiritual resources they can leave the physician’s office in the driver’s seat, driving into a valley of hope and longevity.