Spiritual care counselors (aka “chaplains”) can be quite the enigma. Patients, families, and even staff often confuse us with “pastors” or other clergy who promote one particular religion. They wonder what education and training we have received, what tasks we perform for our respective agencies, and what it is we actually DO in the course of our work.
To misunderstand the role and importance of these professionals denies everyone access to a valuable resource that may ease spiritual distress, lessen complicated grief, and soothe the conflicts these struggles bring to a patient’s total care. As healthcare chaplaincy continues to standardize as a field, researchers and organizations are placing much energy and resources into better understanding who we are, what we do, and why it matters not only to patient care, but to the financial bottom line of healthcare agencies.
The Spiritual Caregivers Steering Committee of NHPCO’s National Council of Hospice and Palliative Professionals conducted a Spiritual Caregivers & Managers/Supervisors Survey in 2013, with assistance and support from the NHPCO Research and Quality team.
The committee solicited input from spiritual care counselors (SCCs) as well as spiritual care managers/supervisors, and added questions to the survey that explored their beliefs regarding the purpose of spiritual care and the role of SCCs in their organization.
Results from the survey provide valuable information which may assist us in better serving the educational and advocacy needs of SCCs and their managers/supervisors. The findings may also serve as a starting point for further exploration. Additionally, this information may help individuals and organizations see how they compare to other NHPCO members, as we seek to increase our professional standards.
Select highlights from the survey:
- Of the 1,047 respondents, 71 percent identified themselves as paid spiritual care staff; 33 percent as supervisors of spiritual care staff; 4 percent as volunteer coordinators; and 1 percent as spiritual care volunteers.
- Nearly a Third Have 10-plus Years of Experience.
- Less Than a Quarter are Board Certified.
- Majority Have Graduate-level Education.
- Most SCCs Wear Multiple Hats
In addition to providing spiritual care to hospice patients and families, SCCs were asked which of five other duties they provide:
- 72 percent said liaison activities and relationship building in the community.
- 67 percent reported bereavement counseling services.
- 65 percent provided in-service education for hospice staff.
- 31 percent provided spiritual or pastoral care to patients not enrolled in hospice.
- 27 percent of respondents noted responsibility for “other” duties, which included everything from spiritual support of staff to memorial/funeral services and support groups.
The study also provided information from respondents about specific interventions used in their work. Survey participants also share information about their organizations, volunteer support, hiring practices and
The Steering Committee for the NCHPP Spiritual Caregiver Section will be “unpacking” this data for some time. The hope is to provide a greater understanding of the spiritual care counselors working in hospice, what they bring to the interdisciplinary team table, and what support and requirements they do (or do not) currently have.
Read the complete article “Findings From the 2013 Spiritual Care Survey” by Carla Cheatham, MA, MDiv, PhD, in the January 2014 edition of NHPCO’s digital publication Newsline.