The War on pain

The War on pain

The War on pain

The Medical
sciences have been held in the grip of secularism for far too
long. However strong indications now show that secular world
views are no-longer accepted as sufficient for addressing the
"War on Pain" which medical professionals dedicate themselves to
battling. Spirituality is back on the medical training
agenda. Two thirds of US Medical schools have courses on
spirituality. New Zealand’s Auckland University faculty of
medical and health sciences now offers a course on Spirituality
and Health. McBride, a leading researcher in this field considers
Spirituality to be a "new frontier in medicine" and one that has
created a ‘raging debate’1. Are we
experiencing a spiritual renaissance in the medical world which
to date has been dominated by a secular world view, focused
primarily on the biological and psychological aspects of health?
I hope so but there is a long way to go.

It has struck me over the years how little
thought is given to the analysis of secularization. Secular
viewpoints dismiss the value of faith or worldviews which are
built on biblical reference points. But have the voices of
Christians offered much of a ‘defence’ of their faith
within the Mental Health and Public health Professions?

New Zealand is a secular society, but not
entirely so. The separation of church and State as a political
necessity also involved faith becoming a matter of private good
rather than an essential public good. We find therefore little or
no representation of the Christian standpoint within public
policy documents. This same invisibility is evident in the
Academic and training professions. Historically religious beliefs
have tended to be ignored or treated as sickness by the medical
professions of which psychiatry is a subspecialty. Many
counsellors, professional and lay, social scientists, social
workers, and community workers have also accepted a predominant
western world view of illness which excludes the exploration of
‘spirituality’ in their training. This has often lead
to devaluing peoples genuine spiritual experiences, further
restricting much needed critical discussion concerning faith.
There is authentic religious experience (spirituality) –
which is healthy, but there also exists ‘religiosity’
– which is unhealthy. Spirituality and Religiosity are not
the same thing! Confusing the two has resulted in academic and
professional training programmes perpetuating the negative
stereotypes about ‘religious practice and

Equally, some church counselling programmes
have been overly ‘suspicious’ and antagonistic toward
secular training programmes. There has been an aura of mistrust
between lay pastoral counsellors in evangelical circles and
mental health professionals. This mistrust is not a necessary
condition and can change. The importance of having more
Christians who work in the fields of psychiatry or psychology for
example cannot be overstated.

The medical and mental health professions in
general are beginning to open the doors to a renewed look at the
"spiritual" aspects of their work but the climate is still
clouded by an old debate namely "faith versus reason."
Anti-intellectualism is still prevalent in many popular church
cultures which only strengthens secularisms grip. What is needed
is a real engagement and awareness of what God is doing within
the Medical Academies (which have been a stronghold of humanistic
doctrine). Dean Blazers is a Christian and practicing
psychiatrist whose book titled Freud versus God. How
Psychiatry Lost Its Soul & Christianity Lost Its Mind
should be read by every Christian and every mental health
Professional genuinely concerned with the spiritual and religious
issues confronting us. There is an increasing weight of evidence
which cannot be ignored. The Handbook of Religion and Health
(2001) which examines over 1200 studies in this field concludes
that, "…religious beliefs and practices rooted within
established religious traditions were found to be consistently
associated with better health."

It is interesting
to note that prayer and
worship are resources which are not readily available to the
agnostic or atheist among whom the majority of secular
Psychiatrists, Psychotherapists and Psychologists would possibly
count themselves. Yet these expressions directed to Almighty God
provide a most valuable opportunity to find comfort healing and
‘wellbeing’. In the words of the Psalmist "When my
heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the rock that is higher than
." 3

While the mental and medical health
professions have tended to have a ‘low’ view of
religious experience and spirituality the tide is changing. There
is also a growing recognition by family therapists that highlight
the need for cross-cultural sensitivity which must include the
religious and spiritual dimensions. Being spiritually aware is
now being considered an important aspect of quality health care.
The tide is turning and the possibility of a real encounter with
the gospel is re-emerging in the medical world.

1 - McBride, J. et al.
(1999). "The Relationship Between a Patient’s Spirituality
and Health Experiences." In Family Medicine. 30 (2): 122
– 126).

2 - (Koenig, H. et al. (editors). (2001) Handbook of Religion
and Health
. Oxford University Press)

3 - Psalm 61:2