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Special Article
November 10, 2003

When the Spirit HurtsAn Approach to the Suffering Patient

Author Affiliations

From the US Army Medical Department Activity, Heidelberg, Germany.

Arch Intern Med. 2003;163(20):2429-2432. doi:10.1001/archinte.163.20.2429

Our compassion must stem from a recognition of their suffering.—The Dalai Lama

Suffering, or spiritual pain, receives little attention in medical education, research, or practice.1 Institutional standards for pain management often address only physical pain,2 the inadequate treatment of which is widespread and well documented.35 However, suffering is more individualized, more elusive than pain.6,7 Suffering, like physical pain, may go unrecognized and undertreated even in the best settings1,3,8 and amidst very compassionate caregivers, simply because of inadequate diagnostic skills and knowledge about the nature of suffering.7 While we may not be able to alleviate suffering in the same manner or to the same degree as we can physical pain, the simple recognition of suffering in the patient is the first step in a truly holistic approach, allowing the patient to feel the therapeutic power of compassion and begin healing.

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