Enhancing Communication and Understanding in Health Care, October 20, 2012, American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, Lynn Underwood, Washington D.C.
Spiritual and religious issues and values often influence how people cope with disease, make decisions, and behave in ways that affect their health. These may be particularly salient for them in chronic disease, mental health, addiction, times of medical crisis, and at end-of-life. It is often challenging to communicate with patients about religious and spiritual values and issues of importance without running headlong into beliefs that may polarize conversation and empathic understanding, and limit the caregiver’s capacity to attend to patient needs and desires.
The Daily Spiritual Experiences Scale (DSES) is a 16-item psychometrically validated scale that measures the frequency of ordinary experiences such as awe, compassionate love, mercy, divine closeness, sense of spiritual support, gratitude, and deep inner peace in daily life (www.dsescale.org). The DSES was constructed based on extensive qualitative research in multiple cultures. It has been used in over 100 published studies, included in the General Social Survey and longitudinal health studies, and translated into over 20 languages. It is linked to outcomes such as less addictive behaviors, better mood, decreased hospital stays, positive health behaviors, and diminished burnout. It has been used extensively in medicine, psychiatry, psychology and social work research. It functions well for people from various major religious backgrounds as well as for those who call themselves spiritual but not religious, and atheists. It does not reduce the spiritual to vague positive features, rather it allows for the kinds of experiences that encompass religious and spiritual depth. It is not only a potential mediating variable but also a measure of a significant component of quality of life for many.
This presentation will discuss ways in which the scale can be used in secular health-care settings to enhance the caregiver’s capacity to communicate with the patient and to help those who are ill to mobilize their own spiritual and religious resources to better cope with illness. Another use of the scale is as a self-exploration tool for caregivers themselves using a structured method to enhance self-understanding and their ability to communicate with others different from themselves. Scores have predicted less burnout in a large hospital system in Hong Kong, as well as in a study of those working in palliative care. This presentation will describe how this psychometrically validated set of 16 questions can be used.