Spirituality SIG Chair Blog - September 2022
Mourning the death of HM Queen Elizabeth II
We have all been deeply saddened to hear news of the death of the Queen at Balmoral last week. Our thoughts and prayers are especially with the King, and with all members of the royal family, at this difficult and painful time. At the same time, as the news broadcasts remind us, we have so much to be thankful for.
Our Queen lived her life to the full, in faithfulness to God and to her people, in service of the whole of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth, and in deep humility. Her spirituality was, as with so many of her virtues, understated, but it was also deeply rooted in her Christian faith, and evident in her love and concern for all her subjects. She has given us a wonderful example of how spirituality impacts upon our relationships with ourselves, others, and a transcendent Reality, providing meaning and purpose in life, and underpinning all that we hold valuable and true.
Grief is deeply painful. It brings us face to face with our own mortality and causes us to think again about what matters most deeply to us. Elizabeth’s reign began amidst the grief at losing her father. This gave birth to a life of dedicated service to all her subjects, in which she showed respect for people of all faiths and none. As we face this time of national mourning, may we provide comfort to one another, to our patients, and to those whom we love, as we reflect on her life and give thanks.
Professor Christopher CH Cook
Spirituality SIG Chair Blog - August 2022
Spirituality and Psychiatry
It is now thirteen years since publication of Spirituality and Psychiatry by RCPsych Press, a book that was conceived, written, and widely read within our SIG, as well as being influential in the wider world of psychiatry. We celebrated the book launch at our tenth anniversary event at the College, in its old home in Belgrave Square, in 2009. Since then, a lot has happened in relation to spirituality and psychiatry around the world, A second book followed, Spirituality and Narrative in Psychiatric Practice, in 2016, also published by RCPsych Press. A position statement, Recommendations for Psychiatrists on Spirituality and Religion, has been published by the College, and policy statements on spirituality and psychiatry have been adopted around the world by the World Psychiatric Association, and by national psychiatric associations in Australia and New Zealand, Austria and Germany, Canada, and South Africa. Numerous other textbooks on spirituality and psychiatry have been written by other groups and authors, including a second edition of the influential Handbook on Religion and Health, edited by Harold Koenig and his colleagues in the USA.
Throughout this time, SPSIG has continued to deliver twice yearly day conferences and has kept the importance of spirituality at the forefront of debate in psychiatry in the UK and more widely. Whilst the evidence base for this has grown exponentially, and we have always sought to ensure that our approach is informed by research, SPSIG has also maintained its emphasis on clinical practice. Spiritualty matters within psychiatry because it influences the way in which we practice, it influences the kind of psychiatrists we aspire to be, and because it matters to our patients. Important though the research literature is, it is not simply evidence to support an argument, it is there to help us to see that spirituality matters in assessment, in diagnosis, in treatment planning and in outcomes.
The second edition of Spirituality and Psychiatry, much enlarged and thoroughly revised, is due for publication in October this year. Copies can be pre-ordered on the Cambridge University Press website. Don’t forget that College members are eligible for a 30% discount on the cover price! (Login as a member on the RCPsych website, click on “My Content”, then on “My RCPsych”, and you’ll then find the discount code at the bottom of that page). The book has retained its emphasis on clinical practice, but has broadened its international perspective and its multi-professional authorship, and addresses latest developments in DSM-5 TR. It has been extensively revised and has several completely new chapters.
As editors, Andrew Powell and I hope that the second edition of Spirituality and Psychiatry will be read even more widely than the first edition but, much more importantly, that it will continue to have a positive impact upon clinical practice and thus, indirectly, upon the experiences that patients have of treatment by their psychiatrists. Only recently a patient told me how good his psychiatrist has been in so many ways, and yet how he was still not sure that he “got it” when it came to the question of why spirituality was so important to him. Hopefully, if you are reading this, you have “got it”, but we have much more work to do to ensure uniformity of good practice across our profession. I hope that the second edition of Spirituality and Psychiatry will play a part in this in the years to come. (Make sure you get it!)
Warm good wishes to all
Professor Christopher CH Cook
Spirituality SIG Chair Blog - May 2022
A Bigger Picture of Spirituality in Psychiatry
I am writing this blog on my way home from our first face to face SPSIG day conference in over two years, held at the College on 5 May. It has been good to see members again in three dimensions – and not only in a small zoom window on a computer. Our theme for the conference – the “Bigger Picture” – seems to sum up much of what spirituality is all about, seeing ourselves and others as a part of a bigger picture of life as meaningful, relational and multi-dimensional.
If spirituality is about something more than the merely material order, it is also still grounded in that physical reality. Being present to one another, physically and not just virtually, is an important part of spirituality. In the Christian tradition to which I belong we might refer to this as sacramental, but the immanence of the spiritual within the material order is an important part of many faiths and also the newer spiritualities that eschew religion.
At the conference, our bigger picture was informed by the twelve-step approach of Alcoholics Anonymous, the thinking behind the Power, Threat, Meaning framework, and the techniques of open dialogue, all of which provide radical ways of rethinking how we understand spirituality as an important and pervasive part of human wellbeing.
We are grateful to Sarah Eagger for organising this event, and to our speakers for an engaging and thought-provoking day. Perhaps equally important were the many discussions over coffee and lunch that enabled us to share our common interests in spirituality, and our mutual concerns for one another. (Many thanks also to the College Dean for dropping by at lunchtime and sharing that part of the day with us!)
In the plenary session of the conference, there was some discussion about what members would like to see in future SIG events. As a Special Interest Group, we are keen to know what you think and as a SIG member you should already have received an e-mail inviting you to take part in a survey of members’ views.
Please do respond to the survey and let us know what you think. The survey will close at the end of this month (May) so you still have time to respond if you have not done so already.
The Spirituality & Psychiatry SIG of the RCPsych is itself a part of a bigger picture of spirituality and psychiatry worldwide. The Ethics Committee of the APA has recently (2021) published a new Resource Document on the Interface of Religion, Spirituality, and Psychiatric Practice which helpfully affirms the importance of spirituality for both psychiatrists and their patients and offers some useful ethical guidance. The Section on Religion and Spirituality at the World Psychiatric Association brings together psychiatrists from all member organisations (including RCPsych).
We express our sympathy to the colleagues, family and friends of its chair, Dr Avdesh Sharma, who died recently, as well as our support for its new chair, Dr Alun Fung. The bigger picture of spirituality and religion in psychiatry worldwide is one of increasing recognition of the importance of addressing the needs of the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. As members of the SPSIG we are all privileged to be a part of this and play our own part in taking this forward in our clinical work, professional development, and mutual support.
Warm good wishes to all
Professor Christopher CH Cook