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The Role of Spiritual Care in a Palliative or Hospice Setting

spiritual care

While many hospice professionals focus on patients’ physical and psychological needs, spiritual care often rests with a highly skilled and compassionate member of the caregiving team: The chaplain.

Chaplains are trained to help with emotional needs of the patient, family and caregiver, also including spiritual and religious needs. They are non-denominational, trained in crisis intervention and serve all people, regardless of faith, including those individuals who have no religious belief or affiliation. If desired, the chaplain can also serve as a liaison to the family’s clergyman.

hospice chaplain with patientA patient who is experiencing distress or fear of the great beyond, can be comforted by spiritual counseling and support. For this reason, if the patient is open to it, family members should ensure that a qualified chaplain is part of the caregiving team.

Depending on who you ask, there are four to five domains of a quality life: physical health, psychological well-being, social interaction and spiritual well being. The National Collation for Hospice and Palliative Care recommends that end-of-life care teams consist of professionals who are equipped to address each of these five pillars. Therefore, many care teams are comprised of a physician, nurse, nursing assistant or home health aide, social worker, chaplain and volunteer. While this interdisciplinary team works to fill most of the patient’s needs, additional emotional support and social interaction comes from visiting friends and loved ones.

Though each team member serves a different function, each is responsible for ensuring all of a patient’s needs are met; this involves collaboration and cross-training one another to identify the various needs of a patient. For instance, if a social worker meets with a patient and notices that the patient demonstrates signs of existential distress, the social worker should ask the chaplain to conduct a follow up visit or, if adequately trained and qualified to do so, the social worker could also provide some spiritual support.

The Role of Hospice Chaplain

chaplain with family memberChaplains serve as an integral member of a patient’s hospice team. A chaplain is more than just a clergy member or spiritual adviser, though he or she is that too. A chaplain is a trained professional who assesses, plans and cares for a patient’s spiritual needs through the end-of-life process. Regardless of how accustomed individuals and family members become to the idea of death, it is difficult for some to find peace before they or a loved one passes.  The chaplain’s job is to provide comfort and counseling, and to ensure that the patient, loved ones, and caregivers are ready to move on when the time comes to do so. After the death of a patient, the chaplain often provides bereavement services and grief counseling for loved ones.

Benefits of Working With a Chaplain

Many people view spirituality as a solo journey, but the truth is that there is comfort in accepting guidance from a third-party. Some benefits of working with a chaplain are as follows:

  • Chaplains help patients prepare for the end-of-life journey. They help patients work through complex emotions, such as depression, regret, anger or guilt. The goal is to ensure that the hospice patient passes with a sense that their life had value and that they made a positive impact.
  • Chaplains help boost patients’ overall sense of well being. Studies show that individuals with a strong spiritual outlook experience lower levels of pain, higher levels of positivity and an overall sense of wellness.
  • Chaplains provide much needed support and comfort. The end-of-life journey can be scary and feel lonely. However, with a chaplain and other caregivers available, no individual has to go through it alone.

comforting patientSpiritual support is a beneficial part of end-of-life care. Whether a patient questions the value of his or her life, struggles with the idea of death, or simply wants comfort during the end-of-life journey, a chaplain and other compassionate members of the care team are willing and able to help.