At my internship in our IOP, we offer a new class on spirituality, meaning and values. The clinicians around us were a little skeptical about offering a class to patients that would most likely be talking about religion, faith and spirituality. A couple of us were (and still are) convinced that spirituality cannot be overlooked when addressing someone’s overall mental health. So, we advocated for this material to be offered to our patients. And we couldn’t be happier with the results. Patients were given time and space to discuss their spiritual lives; anything from how religion has been hurtful, how they use prayer/quiet time/meditation as a coping skill, how places of worship have offered community and how they view themselves as spiritual beings; if not, what that means for recovering in a treatment program. Patients were calm, reflective, respective of their differences and appreciative of their similarities. Even our atheist patients with two PhD’s were engaged in the conversation. We transitioned from conversations on spirituality to conversations on meanings and values. We challenged our patients to think about what gives their life meaning and what do they consider to be their values. Some patient’s struggled to keep their lists to a minimum of 10 important things while others struggled to come up with even one or two values. One of the most heartbreaking, yet noticeable things from this discussion was observing patients who were unhappy with the things they discovered about themselves, specifically the things they value or find give meaning to their lives. Our conversation was full of honesty, authenticity and cathartic moments. Following the class, we heard many patients say, “That was the best group I’ve had here” or “that was the turning point for me in my therapeutic healing.” I’m excited to share the results of the class because it shows that our patient’s really needed the time and space to be allowed to talk about such topics. Through tears, one patient said she was thankful for the space to be able to open up about these things, with a group she feels supported by and clinicians she trusts. Our program is in a secular, hospital setting. We aren’t faith based and we don’t advertise clinicians who are experts in spirituality. But we are a group of clinicians (we are all groups of clinicians) who need to allow time, space and comfort for our patients and clients to discuss these tough, life changing and very important topics.
Kristina Walsh is a counselor-in-training at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, completing her internship this year in Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Care in Harding Hospital at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.