Spiritual Direction and the Medical Professional

doctorCaring for people’s physical well-being can be highly rewarding and extremely stressful. Medical professionals may find they need good soul care in order to provide good medical care for others. Monthly spiritual direction is a practice some medical professionals find helpful for processing and integrating their work experiences as part of their spiritual journey.

It takes a special kind of person to be a physician, nurse, rehab therapist, pharmacist or part of the army of assistants and aides each of those professionals need at a moment’s notice. Medical professionals work with an urgency that those of us outside the system will never quite understand. They face life or death decisions and situations that are not for the faint of heart. They carry stories they are not at liberty to share with many people in their life. Often they work in systems that are slow to change and put restrictions on how they practice the art of healing.

Spiritual direction can be the confidential “holding space” they need to consider how the Source of Life is showing up in and through their work.

At their best, medical professionals see themselves as healers. Not magicians, but people dedicated to preserving life and “doing no harm.” Their patients come to them with high hopes and sometimes great fear. Managing one’s own emotions in difficult situations is a key aspect of providing good medical care. But in some cases, how to stay balanced and emotionally healthy with such a stressful job was not taught in their training programs.

For medical professionals who see themselves as spiritual people or seekers, spiritual direction can help them explore ways to make meaning of their experiences and discern a path of wholeness that is right for them. Here are a few themes that tend to arise in spiritual direction with medical professionals:

Not enough time to do quality work. Productivity standards and insurance regulations make our health system in the U.S. ridiculously complicated. It is easy for medical professionals to feel overwhelmed with the task. As much as they would like to spend quality time with patients, they lack the freedom to do so. Spiritual direction offers them a space to relax and allow their spirit to catch up to their weary bodies.

Grief over not being able to help someone.  Some things are simply out of our hands. Medical professionals know this yet particular patients can touch their hearts in ways they don’t quite understand. They may ask “why am I not able to shake this off?” Spiritual direction can be a place where this grief can have a voice and ultimately be a teacher to them.

Feeling unbalanced between work and home. I have noticed that medical professionals are rarely the types to leave all their work at the door. It’s not that they are workaholics; it’s that their work feels so important that it captures their hearts and imagination far beyond the hours they spend on the job. Discerning how to find a balance to give a social life, family and community adequate time is a theme that is frequently discussed in spiritual direction.

Good questions for medical professionals to ponder are:

  • What is most life-giving about your profession?
  • In what aspect of your work do you feel most connected to God?
  • How do you handle setbacks in your work?
  • How are you taking care of yourself?
  • How do you understand healing? What are your beliefs about how healing takes place?
  • What spiritual practice helps you most during the day?
  • Where do you find spiritual community? How does it help?
  • What are your deepest desires for your work?

It may be that a lot of medical professionals don’t even know what spiritual direction is and how helpful it could be to them. One of my professional goals is to get the word out to people from all walks of life that spiritual direction is a contemplative practice that can help you get in touch with your higher self, higher power and your deepest core values. My hope is that people who need spiritual direction will see themselves in this blog series and then give spiritual direction a try. We certainly need more medical professionals to feel safe, grounded and supported on a spiritual path.

By the way, I have openings in my schedule for new directees—regardless of where you live. I can work by phone or Skype or if you live in the Phoenix metro area we can meet in person. If you are interested in learning more about spiritual direction or entering spiritual direction with me, please contact me at teresa@teresablythe.net  or visit www.teresablythe.net.  Also visit my website for the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.

Photo credit: Alex E. Proimos via Foter.com / CC BY-NC

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