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Talking to the Doctor About Faith

January 3, 2021
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

Discussing faith with your doctor can be uncomfortable. Even bringing the topic up can be seen as dismissive of the many years of study and experience on which your doctor relies and a slight to the considerable body of scientific knowledge backing the medical profession.

 

Fans of the popular television program House, M.D. will recall Hugh Laurie’s portrayal of a virulently atheistic doctor quick to lash out at the faithful. While this is, naturally, dramatized, it is not uncommon for a milder version of the same interaction to occur when faith is mentioned, especially if the patient is in dire condition or the doctor does not share the patient’s beliefs.

Still, patients don’t need to be discouraged or switch practitioners to discuss faith with their doctors. The first step is to clear your mind of preconceptions and prejudice and approach the topic with the same honesty and transparency as one should always show to their medical practitioner. Prepare yourself with a clear understanding of what problems you wish to address, both from a medical and religious perspective and be ready to hear a different opinion than your own. 

 

If your doctor initiates the discussion, make sure to listen to what the doctor has to say in full. Even if it seems like the doctor is challenging your beliefs and practices, understand that the doctor is doing so with your best interests at heart and backed by his or her own expertise and the accumulated knowledge of the medical field. If you hear any misconceptions about either your faith or the state of your health, correct them in a polite and factual manner–it does neither party any good to withhold information from the other or to begin an argument.

Be aware that certain extremely sensitive topics may arise, either medical issues or issues surrounding your own deeply held beliefs. If something is offensive to you, taking the time to clarify that could be a serious step in making the rest of the conversation more productive; when one person feels affronted, they tend to take less notice of what the other is saying, making the whole discussion a pointless exercise. This kind of behavior should be avoided in any circumstances, and particularly when your health is at stake.

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Healthy Communication

Healthy Communication

After you discuss your faith with your doctor, make sure that you go back and check whether or not your original questions and concerns have been properly addressed. If you and your doctor have decided on a course of action, make sure to follow it carefully; once again, there is no point even entering into such a delicate area if you proceed to ignore the results. 

 

If your spiritual concerns persist, you may want to consider relating your doctor’s advice to a religious advisor or even having one present to begin with. Although this may be difficult to arrange and create a more lengthy discussion, it can yield significantly smoother results and lead to a healthier and happier way forward for all concerned.

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