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July 2017

Spirituality in Dermatology Practice: Return to the Soul

Author Affiliations
  • 1The University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston
  • 2The Skin Clinic, Williamstown, Massachusetts
JAMA Dermatol. 2017;153(7):629-630. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2017.0501

After his experience in Nazi concentration camps, Victor Frankl1 wrote, “Man is not destroyed by suffering; he is destroyed by suffering without meaning.” As physicians, one of the many challenges we face is to help our patients find solace amid periods of suffering. In medieval times, leprosy was just as much a spiritual problem as it was a physical one. Many illnesses during this period in history were often deemed as punishment for religious or moral transgressions. Before the advent of modern medicine, care for those individuals with leprosy was largely provided by the Catholic Church. Hundreds of religious houses and hospitals for the care of those with leprosy, known as lazar houses, or lazarettos, were established across Europe. Much of the care provided for lepers during these times was centered on a person’s spiritual needs. In England, these Lazar houses required those admitted to take religious vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity (in line with Christian monastic traditions). Most of the hospitals were built around chapels in which praying and singing was carried on throughout the day. While many of these constructions were destroyed in the early 16th century by Henry VIII, the spiritual qualities of skin disease remain true to this day.

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