Thursday, 12 April 2012

Behaviour Change - the role of religious belief

In an earlier post, I wrote about the need to understand what is important in the lives of the people we serve. Such understanding can give clues as to how to frame and phrase health care messages in ways that help people to make positive changes.

A significant number of people in our local population are Muslims, adherents of Islam. Their faith plays a major part in shaping their personal, family and community lives.

Islam, like other religious faiths, has useful teachings about health and care of the body. Chaplains in hospital settings have been able to help their health colleagues make links between treatment or health messages and the religious faith of their patients.

In the photo are two examples produced for Bradford Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust by the Muslim Chaplains. Mohammed Arshad, one of the authors, described how he worked with physiotherapy colleagues to develop materials that would support attendance at the Chronic Pain clinic. He enabled staff to understand how the different prayer positions related to phsysio exercises and to change the question about whether people walk their dog, to a question about whether people walk to the Mosque.

This knowledgeable support gave real confidence to staff hesitant about straying into what can seem to be the vexed area of religion. Understandably, staff are anxious about whether it is appropriate or about giving offence by speaking inappropriately.

Religious belief is central to the lives of many people in our community. It is part of the warp and weft of their daily lives, an integral part of their individual identity. It does not seem odd to them to speak of faith in terms of every area of life. Making faith connections with health makes good sense to people and may help them understand better what is being asked of them.

For example, our research into awareness of eye health in that particular population, revealed that people struggled to understand the concept of prevention. Telling the Sufi story 'Tether Your Camel' (see previous post about story telling) created instant understanding and a lively discussion. With the help of the Chaplain's material, we were able to follow this up with more serious Islamic teaching references, with which people were familiar. 

For the people in our groups, changing behaviour in order to improve health was not just about making an individual choice but about living out their deeply held faith.

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