Monday, August 10, 2015

Mainstream and holistic healthcare approaches merge at last: Medical services, social services, and faith organizations join forces to provide “integrated healthcare” to the community


Two of my passions as a communicator are interfaith relations and holistic health, and I am delighted that these two fields are joining forces more and more often. I’ve been hearing about the work of the Interfaith Health & Hope Coalition (IHHC) for about two years now; the IHHC has partnered with various religious and human service organizations to provide educational opportunities and inter-agency collaboration on such topics as caregiving, end of life care, child abuse, and the influence people’s religious backgrounds have on their healthcare decisions.

On Thursday, September 24, 2015, the IHHC will be facilitating a Prayer Event titled “Spirituality as a Social Determinant of Health,” held at the Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit, from 10:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. The focus of the program is on establishing a “working definition of spirituality” to help various faith groups and healthcare providers get on the same page about the spiritual needs of their shared clients, and promote the importance of acknowledging and working with clients’ spirituality in their healthcare.

The term for this approach is “integrated health,” which is more or less synonymous with the main concepts of “holistic health.” Whichever term you prefer, this healthcare approach focuses on treating people as the complex, multi-system beings they are—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual—rather than leaving one or more major set of needs unaddressed for the sake of treating medical challenges as physical failings of individual parts in isolation from the whole.

Until now, spirituality has historically been left out of all but “alternative” health care approaches. Re-branding mind-body-spirit care as “integrated health” in this context is probably a good idea, since people associate the term holistic with “alternative” health, which has historically been viewed as at odds with secular, medical-oriented healthcare.

The integrated health approach seems intent on forming a happy medium between the two, by working in the acknowledgement of clients’ spiritual needs, rather than telling them to go to their priest, rabbi, or other spiritual leader to get their non-medical needs met in conjunction with their physical health care.

Historically, the clergy of various religions have received about as much (i.e., minimal if any) training in addressing their congregations’ healthcare needs as healthcare providers have received in addressing their clients’ spiritual needs. Therefore, the IHHC focuses on helping both healthcare and other social service providers gain a functional level of interfaith literacy, and helping religious leaders develop healthcare literacy so they can serve as “mental health first responders” in their congregations.

Another initiative of the Coalition is “circles of care,” in which clergy, social workers, and other health and human service workers trained in the integrated health approach go and meet with health and human service agencies to moderate discussions about addressing the spiritual needs of their clients. This also helps make it more likely for people—particularly those who face transportation challenges—to get more of their needs met closer to home, by providers who understand and are able to work with each other to provide multi-level care to their mutual clients.

It was reported at the July 31st meeting of the Michigan Professional Communicators with interest in religion and cross-cultural issues (MPC) that the IHHC has had huge success in gathering participants from a wide variety of health and human services professions for its events; attendance at the IHHC’s events currently averages between 100 and 150 participants.

Another important benefit of the integrated health model is its focus on “health promotion,” rather than the typical “prevention” model of totally secular healthcare. Accentuating the positive—promoting good health, rather than just focusing on preventing bad health—is a great step toward helping people move from fear-based, compartmentalizing models of mainstream healthcare, into feeling more empowered to take an active role in their own healing, using their spirituality as a source of strength rather than seeing it as irrelevant to their healthcare treatment.

There is no charge for the September 24 “Spirituality as a Social Determinant of Health” Prayer Event, but registration is required.

To register or request more information, please contact Ron Beford.


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Illustration by Karla Joy Huber, 2008; Prismacolor marker and Sharpie marker


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