Spirituality in a Primary Care Setting
The gift of being able to bear witness to people’s journeys, not only through health but through life, is one of the greatest that I’ve encountered. Even despite the way that health has been parsed out into body systems and parts and made into algorithms matching symptoms to diagnoses, to a medication. The human body is a majestically complex system; every system feeding the other, an imbalance in one creating compensation in another. There is a beauty in the organization, the precision, and the wisdom of the process; one that supersedes even the most advanced medical interventions and theory.
Wisdom in the Body
One of the greatest things I’ve seen in my practice is the profound effect of emotions on the human body. I have physically felt trauma in body tissues without the patient saying a word. I’ve also seen and felt profound physical healing in this way. There is a power in the human body that exceeds the most advanced medical knowledge and research. There is so much we don’t understand about the intricate interconnected workings of the body, and the gift of understanding what we do now is miraculous. I think that most of us in the medical profession would agree that there is a profound wisdom in the body that allows us to heal, remember, respond, grow. Like osteopathic philosophy posits, a physician who helps people heal will address the body, mind, and spirit of the patient. It is the spirit that promotes or hinders the healing mechanisms of the body.
In a medical world filled with expectations, guidelines, the constant threat of legal action, and the intersection of customer service and providing the skilled service of healthcare, the challenge of staying grounded becomes heightened. When I am connected with the patients, I am connected with the privilege of witnessing their process. In this space, time slows down. It opens a space of healing for the patient, and in effect, for myself.
Holding the Space
Staying connected with my own spirituality allows me to stay present to such great suffering, and such profound healing, from one room to the next. It allows me to hold a safe space for the patients. It gives me the resilience to meet them where they are at. I encountered my own spirituality in a much deeper way in my medical training. Experiencing the grief, joy, pain, sadness, and healing along with patients helped me to grow in my own resilience. The emotions of the human experience unite us all, and in this unity we can find deeper healing.
I’m not sure I could fully stay in a space to do my job, or heed this calling, to the fullest without staying to connected to spirituality. In making such a sweeping statement it’s important to mention what spirituality means to me, and that is remaining connected to the oneness that is every being. Some describe this as universal consciousness, others God, and others simply the Divine. How else can one begin to comprehend the profundity of birth, suffering, joy, pain, healing, and death in the span of one day, day after day, and not take it all on as their own feelings? This is where the gift of empathy combined with the skill of staying present intersect. Humans are empathetic beings, and when someone witnesses great suffering it creates a crucible to grow from or shrink into. In order to continue to stay present, to provide a listening ear and an open heart to those that we will continue to encounter along our journeys, it is imperative that we grow into courage, deeper empathy, and love for one another.
Gratitude is an intrinsic part of my spirituality, as I believe it is for many. Gratitude for the miracles that the body performs every day, for the people I encounter, for the pain and joy that I share with them, provides a constant connection to spirit. I am deeply grateful to be on my path and in this profession, and deeply grateful to all the patients that have allowed me the privilege of being a part of their journey to health.
The beautiful role that primary care physicians play in healthcare is to hold space for the individual. We are some of the few physicians you see when you are not sick. We support you mind, body and spirit and have the role in our current system to be responsible for looking at the whole person. You may not need to see your primary care the whole year, but we hold the space for you if you need us. With open arms and gratitude, I want to take this opportunity to thank my patients for this privilege.
Dr. Kate Zachau is an osteopathic physician, board certified in family medicine who works in an integrative setting at Collaborative Natural Health Partners in Manchester, CT. For more information, please visit: ctnaturalhealth.com or call (860) 533-0179.