In When Sickness Heals, Dr. Siroj Sorajjakool draws on more than ten years of studies on health benefits in relation to spirituality, especially focusing on the function of "meaning." He expounds on his theory that healing is primarily the function of meaning, and meaning transcends sickness and even death itself. He concludes that what people ultimately seek in life is the healing of their souls.
Sorajjakool brings many Eastern and Western resources to his conversation on health, meaning, and healing. He incorporates the perspectives of theologians and philosophers like Paul Tillich, Carl Jung, Søren Kierkegaard, Raimundo Panikkar, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and John Macquarrie; as well as references to religious texts, including yin and yang, and alchemy.
A clear, distinct understanding of spirituality in clinical contexts is presented, with an argument for the role of meaning in the healing process, based on evidence that there may be healing even in the face of death. Sorajjakool identifies the transitional processes people may go through as they seek to make sense of their experiences during a health crisis. He suggests an alternative approach to spiritual assessment and provides methods of spiritual care that speak to the soul.
Table of Contents
Acknowledgments / ix
Introduction / xi
1. Spirituality: Toward a Definition / 1
2. Religion / 10
3. Illness, Meaning, and Miracles / 21
4. Illness and the Developmental Task / 31
5. Integration in Theology and Religious Symbols / 43
6. Spirituality and Integration in Mental Health / 55
7. Integration: The Case of Søren Kierkegaard / 69
8. Spiritual Assessment / 80
9. Spiritual Care / 88
Appendix 1. Definition of Terms / 101
Appendix 2. Ontology and Spirituality: Raimundo Panikkar, Paul Tillich, and Carl Jung / 105
Appendix 3. Diagnosis of Søren Kierkegaard / 113
Notes / 121
Bibliography / 139
Index / 145
Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith—Vol. 58, No. 3
People working in health care should be interested in this book’s focus on the spiritual experience of patients. It might stimulate researchers to consider research projects at the interface of illness and spiritual experience. I came away with several questions that I hope to pursue in my work and reading.
If one is engaged in pastoral work and would like a philosophical foundation for the connections between illness and spirituality, the book will be a helpful read. It would be a useful book for parish nurses in that it supplies background to which they may not have been exposed in their professional training as nurses.
In many ways, Sorajjakool has offered an interesting book… the breadth of this book makes it an important reference tool for those interested in the area of health and spirituality. —Abigail Rian Evans, Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, NJ
The author’s name and his book are out of the ordinary. It is rich with the stories of how sufferers find meaning. The stories are his personal ones and those heard from his and other patients in the course of his work of counseling, as well as from literature. They are about how pain can be transformed into spiritual development. The book is not a tract that Job’s comforters would have written. It is a guide to piritual care that helps us attend to nonbeing and the negative experiences of living so that e can integrate them into our beings.
Sorajjakool speaks also from the experience of ten years teaching medical students the art of spiritual care. He is well versed on the research literature about the benefits of spirituality on health, though that is not the focus of this book. Perhaps the storongest original contribution in this book is Sorajjakool’s personal awareness of the cultural dimension of finding meaning and the difference that makes in spiritual care.
Sorajjakool incorporates the wisdom of various religions and spiritual perspectives, which may be highly useful for those providing spiritual care in interfaith settings. The book’s emphasis on spirituality as opposed to religion is an asset for chaplains and spiritual caregivers alike, as the religious affiliations of America’s suffering become increasingly diverse.
This book contributes to the field of pastoral theology by serving as both a theoretical and practical reference for chaplains and individuals providing spiritual care for the suffering. If effectively communicates the need to incorporate nonbeing—pain and suffering—within one’s system of meaning. In addition, it is an accessible and readable book for the medical provider seeking to incorporate spirituality and meaning. Although the theory and theology may be unfamiliar territory for those in the medical field, the anecdotes and examples add flesh to the bones of Sorajjakool’s theory. Further, the bibliography alone can serve as a useful reference for anyone interested in spirituality and suffering as Sorajjakool utilizes a variety of both classic and contemporary texts.
Physicians that manage severe disease witness the powerful role that religion plays in dealing with pain and suffering. Drawing on concepts in philosophy, theology and psychology to examine the relationship between illness and religion, Siroj Sorajjakool guides clinicians through their patients’ spiritual journeys in When Sickness Heals: The Place of Religious Belief in Healthcare (Templeton Foundation Press, $19.95). Sorajjakool’s academic background in theology and clinical background in pastoral counseling give him a unique perspective on the struggle to cope with disease.
In order to tackle such a topic, the Loma Linda University professor of religion, psychology and counseling must first define the terms. Sorajjakool puts forth a definition of spirituality as an innate quest for meaning, one stimulated by illness and tragedy.
When stricken with severe illness, we, as humans, turn toward ritual and divine intervention to gain control, ease anxiety and find purpose or meaning behind our suffering. This is exemplified when the newly diagnosed patient prays for a miracle cure for his or her terminal condition.
The concept of the miracle represents a longing to revert life back to a positive, meaningful state. Sorajjakool explains that when patients realize the miracle will not occur, they enter a new phase of spirituality, and begin to integrate their suffering into their system of meaning. Patients who make this "faith journey" are finally able to find meaning within their suffering. Religious symbolism assists with this journey by providing an avenue to integrate suffering with meaning. Soraj¬jakool also explores cultural and religious differences in the way mental illness is defined, perceived and managed.
These principles established, Soraj¬ja¬kool provides a means by which clinicians can assess a patient’s spirituality to determine his or her progress along the faith journey. Understanding the progress of spiritual transition can allow the clinician to interact with the patient and family in a manner that facilitates communication and minimizes anxiety. Spiritual care is then possible.
The caregiver does not lead the patient through the faith journey—it is an individual one—but provides space within which the journey can occur, without expectation or prejudice.
The author presents very complex philosophical arguments within a framework appropriate for the target audience. Sorajjakool begins each chapter with a brief summary of the discussion to follow. With the endpoint of the argument up front, the reader is able to enjoy the complex text that develops the intended message. In supporting his arguments, Sorajjakool draws examples from classic and contemporary philosophers, several diverse religious teachings, personal anecdotes and even contemporary cinema. These examples provide the reader with practical demonstration of the messages he conveys and add an element of flow to the reading.
While the author does an excellent job of incorporating his vast knowledge of both Eastern and Western religion and philosophy, the reader longs for more clinical anecdotes. The beautiful clinical experiences that Sorajjakool cites are the most pleasant part of the material. I found myself wishing stories were expounded upon and more numerous.
Still, for the physician who manages severe disability, this book provides indispensable insight into the religious transition and spiritual journey the patients must navigate.
Dr. Leroy Trombetta is a general surgeon on staff at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
As the title implies, "When Sickness Heals" addresses the author’s premise that a person experiencing illness or impending death can find spiritual and/or religious meaning in that experience. Drawing on his background as a native of Thailand and as a professor of religion, psychology and counseling at Loma Linda University (a church-sponsored institution), Siroj Sorajjakool offers an array of perspectives on religion and spirituality from Eastern and Western sources.
The author takes the reader on a thorough journey through many forms of religious thought and belief and demonstrates clearly how those forms can influence a person’s response to illness. The essence of his argument is that a person who holds strongly to a concept of God as one who intervenes miraculously will have difficulty accepting the prospect of "nonbeing." On the other hand, one who sees God as someone who is present with him through the depths of pain and despair can reconcile to the idea of "nonbeing" and find significant meaning in the experience. That then leads to a form of healing in the midst of the illness.
The book is a mix of practical explanations, sprinkled with occasional anecdotes and some rather deep academic presentations. If the reader chooses to follow the numerous notes contained in the back of the book, it becomes a laborious read. And the depth of some portions might make it, in some ways, a puzzling experience for most nonprofessionals.
It should be of significant value, however, for people whose professions bring them in close contact with people experiencing chronic or life-threatening illness.
Chaplains, pastors, counselors, social workers, physicians, nurses, Stephen Ministers, etc., could find this book very helpful in offering an effective form of spiritual care to the ill.
Those who are not familiar with some of the more technical aspects of psychology that the author addresses could skim over those parts and still find value by concentrating on the more practical portions.
Reviewer: The Rev. Bruce Jayne, a retired Navy and hospital chaplain