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Spiritual Resources for the Healing Journey

by Steven Spidell, DMIN, BCC

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More and more, cancer survivors are employing a holistic approach to overcoming their disease. Traditional medicine’s physical and chemical means for treating cancer are now viewed by many to be only part of the quest for healing and wholeness. While some people turn to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, or naturopathy, many more are drawing on complementary, spiritual practices to reach a total healing approach.

An integrative approach seeks to address cancer treatment from its physical, emotional, and spiritual dimensions. Just as a serious illness is more than merely physical, so should the treatment be. Below, you will find a list of many complementary approaches. Each method overlaps and interplays with every aspect of our lives. Speak with your doctor before integrating complementary therapy into your treatment program.

Along with medical care, these spiritual practices can enhance your healing and recovery.

Author of Article photo

Rev. Steven Spidell


Cancer throws our bodies and spirits out of kilter, out of synch. Some approaches seek to redress the physical and spiritual balance of the person. These approaches use the body’s, sometimes even the universe’s, energy to reach for healing. They include Qigong, reflexology, Reiki, relaxation, tai chi, therapeutic (or healing) touch, breath work, and massage.

Other approaches are based on the spiritual, healing sources of traditional religious or spiritual faith communities. Studies have shown the importance of being part of a faith community and drawing all it has to offer for healing. Spiritual practices include sacred stories; anointing with oil; chanting; contemplative or centering prayer; spiritual direction; breath prayer; gratitude; prayers for healing, blessing, and comfort; prayer blankets, cloths, and beads; confession and forgiveness; laying on of hands; icons; and active participation in a faith community. Just as our bodies influence our feelings and emotions, so these also have their own impact on the body.

Some approaches intentionally help the cancer survivor to focus his or her mind with the intentionality of being more open to healing and self-understanding. Some of these activities reach for quiet centeredness while others are more expressive and evocative of feelings. They include meditation, mindfulness, walking the labyrinth, hypnosis, drumming, dance, poetry, guided imaginary or visualization, aromatherapy, and serving others.

Other activities that have also been found to enhance a person’s inner resources include art, dream work, humor, journaling, healing stories of others and your own, music, pet therapy, crystals, and having a friend or professional who will listen to you, support you, and accept you. These activities heighten one’s creativity and sense of well-being, and they release healing energy.

The primary goals of any of these complementary spiritual practices are quite simple. The first goal is to open your body, mind, and spirit to a transcendent source of power, faith, hope, and love. The second goal is to shift your focus from the negative aspects of coping with cancer to living, even living well. Along with medical care, these spiritual practices can enhance your healing and recovery. They can become avenues that may open you to a transcendent, healing power. When your whole person, not just your physical body, is transformed, then your spiritual healing can begin.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Rev. Steven Spidell is executive director of Presbyterian Outreach to Patients in the Texas Medical Center in Houston, TX. He is a Board Certified Chaplain and the father of a childhood cancer survivor.

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, September/October 2008.