Today’s columnist, Dr Mary Wren: Treating the whole person

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When I was a student, we had opportunities to go on medical electives. For my long elective I chose to go to work with the Zulu people in South Africa, which I wrote about last year.

For my second elective I chose to go to a hospital in Kent called Burrswood.

This hospital is unique in the UK, as far as I know, because it has high quality medical care, while also having a church on site and providing chaplaincy and spiritual care.

The hospital is flourishing today and has excellent ratings.

One of the main things I learned when there was the importance of treating people as individuals and as a whole person – body, soul and spirit.

Staff were available to help each patient look at those different parts of themselves so that they could get well in all areas.

There was a huge sense of love and care.

A quote on their website says: “You didn’t just treat my illness and my symptoms.

“The doctors, in particular, looked at me and my way of life. Having faith or no faith was fully respected.”

I know a lady with chronic fatigue who went for respite care. She came back looking like a different lady. She had a hope in her eyes, a new confidence and had practical ideas for increasing her exercise levels. A few years down the line she is really well.

I find it really interesting how much compassion and love play a part in health.

There was a Channel 4 documentary a couple of years ago about alternative therapies.

The conclusion was that it wasn’t so much the therapy offered, but that the person was made to feel listened to, cared for, loved and valued.

There is a man called Rolland Baker who works in Mozambique.

A few years ago he had a breakdown and lost his memory with symptoms and signs of dementia.

He went to stay at a retreat centre in Germany where he received medical care but also prayer and huge amounts of love and kindness.

He is now completely well again and working, with no sign of dementia.

Now, I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but I wonder how much difference it would make to have more care of soul and spirit alongside scientific medical care.

The gentle touch, a hug, kind words and prayer could transform health care.

Dr Mary Wren, Sheffield GP