GW Professor Publishes Textbook on Spirituality

August 28, 2012

Christina Puchalski examines the growing area of spirituality in health care.

For more than a decade, Christina Puchalski, M.D. ’94, has been working to foster a more compassionate system of health care through her research, education and policy work at the George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health (GWish).

And now she’s authored the first comprehensive textbook on the role of spirituality in health care.

The Oxford Textbook of Spirituality and Healthcare, which is edited by Dr. Puchalski; Mark Cobb, senior chaplain and clinical director at the Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in the United Kingdom; and Bruce Rumbold, director of the Palliative Care Unit at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, covers the emerging field’s clinical practice and training, research and health care policy.

“I have wanted to publish a textbook in spirituality and health for many years, but we needed to build the scholarly and clinical work as a basis for this emerging field. There is now a great demand for such a body of work,” said Dr. Puchalski. “The textbook is a reflection of how far we’ve come in developing a scholarly field in spirituality in health.”

Serving as an interdisciplinary textbook that can be used in medical schools as well as classes in public health, nursing, social work and pastoral care, the book includes contributions from clinicians, chaplains, philosophers, social workers, nurses, theologians and public health professionals.

Over the last few years, there has been a growing amount of articles in medical and health care journals on spirituality, but there has been no attempt to publish a standard text on the subject. As a pioneer and leader in the movement to integrate spirituality into health care in both the clinical setting and in medical education, Dr. Puchalski saw the need for such a textbook.

Since founding GWish in 2001, Dr. Puchalski, who serves as director of the institute, has contributed groundbreaking work in the clinical, academic and pastoral understanding of spiritual care as an essential element in health care. In 2009, she received the George Washington University Distinguished Alumni Award and, in 2011, the Outstanding Colleague Award from the National Association of Catholic Chaplains. She’s also a fellow of the American College of Physicians and a member of the contemplative Carmelite lay community.

Dr. Puchalski hopes the new textbook will help improve patient care.

“There is a lot of active dialogue on how we can improve health care systems. Technology and science have been the primary focus,” said Dr. Puchalski. “What is uniformly missing is a relationship-centered compassionate approach, and that’s the foundation of spirituality in health care. How do we honor the individuality of each person? We respect patients and their families, and we need to integrate them into creating their own treatment plans and empower them to find hope and healing in their own lives.”

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