More and more psychologists, medical physicians, ministers and other counselors are learning there are two factors that are as important in aging as physical health: unresolved family issues and personal spirituality.
In fact, unresolved family issues that affect physiological and mental health in any age family can go back several generations and be of major importance to present counselors who are working with their clients. Because they feel that spirituality is a factor in helping some patients heal, medical schools are adding courses in spirituality to aid in the care of their patients' mental and physical health.
Rabbi Edwin H. Friedman's book, "Generation to Generation," examines specific topics in depth, particularly the influence of previous generations upon life cycle events. This book is written as an aid for clergy as they counsel members of their congregations, but it could be important for other professionals who help people with emotional problems.
As people relate to each other in their daily lives, various types of relationship triangles are formed. These triangles are the source of current, and sometimes past, relationships with each other. If there is a problem, particularly a long-term one, it can be the factor that causes a member of the family (or of the church family) to react in a completely unrelated way--such as an illness, anger, anxiety, promiscuity, irresponsibility and other ways that damage family relationship. Often, it's found, if the underlying problem is solved or dealt with, the person with the damaging symptoms will be helped out of his or her difficulties.
By working with the entire family, sometimes including aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws as well as parents and grandparents, therapists can resolve the real issue and help the by-product response that has been cited as the problem.
Although doctors and scientists once avoided the study of spirituality as it relates to medicine, studies now show that religion and faith help to fight disease and improve coping skills and a positive outlook.
To begin to make sense of a large body of data, the National Institutes of Health commissioned a series of papers in which scientists attempted to definitively assess the state of faith-and-health research. The conclusions are mixed. "While faith provides comfort in times of illness, it does not significantly slow cancer growth or improve recovery from acute illness," according to Lynda H. Powell or Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, who conducted the study review. "One nugget, however, blew my socks off," Powell says. "People who regularly attend church have a 25 percent reduction in mortality--that is, they live longer than people who are not churchgoers."
Spirituality isn't a replacement for scientific medical care, but many physicians said that it could strengthen traditional medicine when accompanied by realistic expectations.
The bottom line seems to be this: personal relationships and personal spirituality play key roles in physical and mental health.
So, while you or a family member is working through medical diagnosis and treatments, don't forget to consider the more emotional aspects of what makes you human. See a counselor, talk to a spiritual counselor. Get the help you need in these important areas of health as well.