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Healthcare chaplaincy 

Healthcare chaplaincy
Healthcare chaplaincy

Chris Swift

, George Handzo

, and Jeffrey Cohen

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date: 03 July 2022

In this chapter we have set out a dynamic picture of religious and spiritual care with reference to a growing literature and three brief case studies. We have noted the persistence of needs arising in healthcare not only from those with clear religious affiliations, but increasingly from those whose spirituality is not defi ned by traditional boundaries. The chaplain’s leading role in spiritual care is characterized by a detailed knowledge of personal beliefs and the relationship of these to health and illness. Through the chaplain’s expertise patients are supported during some of the most difficult experiences any of us ever faces. The care that is provided enables the patient to cope and make sense while often engaging a network of support that benefi ts the patient long after discharge. In an era when medicine has excelled in its ability to treat ever smaller and discrete aspects of illness the care provided by the chaplain is essential for keeping the complete person in view. As chaplains work alongside other staff, and transect the organization as a whole, they are embodied reminders of the way in which spirituality is connected to the ancient and sacred tasks of healing and caring for the sick. When critics have drawn attention to the enormous breadth of how the term ‘spirituality’ has been employed in healthcare literature, they have ignored the personal beliefs and experiences, which define us. Since the modern professional chaplain works with the patient’s sense of what is spirituality significant for them, there is indeed a flexibility in the use of the term, which is wholly appropriate. There is no exclusion list of items, which may not, under any circumstances, be considered to be spiritual. Where experiences link us to sacred themes, or become contextualized by broader relationships to creation, human, or divine communities, the description of spirituality is both accurate and meaningful. It follows that the delineation of a spiritual experience for someone is the framing that leads their passage through healthcare to be seen with deeper significance. In hospitals, that framing may be the illness itself, the relationships and beliefs it changes, or the sense of transcendence arising from a more imminent sense of our aging and mortality. Above all else, as sickness can change a person’s fundamental outlook, the process of spiritual support and exploration cannot be an isolated endeavour. All healthcare staff play a part by providing care which recognizes the overall impact of illness on patients, their values, and relationships. The spirituality of care chaplains promote within healthcare recognizes that what may be routine to healthcare workers is not routine to patients. Some patients will enter new and difficult territory, and the need for those who are highly trained and skilled in handling spiritual matters will continue, both as a resource to staff and as direct care to patients.

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