Family Health Seth Stratton | 9 months ago

Spiritual Care Brings Divine Component to Care Team

Calling on faith to soothe patients through illness, trauma.

A few years ago, Carolinas HealthCare System’s pastoral care department rebranded itself as the spiritual care and education department. Chaplains in the department work to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of patients throughout the hospitals. The spiritual care title tells patients and families that spiritual support services are available to everyone, whether they follow an organized religion or not. “Chaplains represent god’s presence in places where people don’t expect it,” says David Carl, executive director of spiritual care and education at Carolinas HealthCare System. “No matter what our patients and families are going through, it’s our job to ensure our patients can have a sense of spiritual safety, which elevates hope and advances healing.”

Caring For The Soul

Chaplain services – available 24/7 – play a vital role in caring for a patient’s mind, body and spirit, says Carl. And chaplains at Carolinas HealthCare System are kept busy. From births and accidents to surgeries and deaths, chaplains often pray with patients, deliver sacrament or simply lend a non-judgmental ear. While each patient brings their own beliefs into a care setting, they also bring their own fears. Chaplains help guide patients through any fears or difficulties in a variety of ways. They can offer general support or lead patients through guided imagery and positive affirmation exercises. Carl estimates about half of the patients coming to Carolinas HealthCare System belong to some sort of faith community or follow some form of organized religion. “We’re not trying to take the place of anyone’s primary spiritual care provider,” Carl says. “In fact, we go out of our way to make sure patients have access to their faith leaders. But, of course, we’re also there for patients who are not affiliated with an organized faith.”

Elevating Hope, Advancing Healing

Guided imagery and affirmations before surgery can affect a patient’s experience on the operating room table, says Carl, adding that studies show such methods can help shorten a patient’s recovery, need for pain medication and length of stay at the hospital. Chaplains also provide spiritual and emotional support to staff by offering stress-management sessions and helping with ethical consultations. “We’re being very intentional about reaching out and fostering and promoting compassion in the workplace,” says Carl. “Compassion is healing. When a teammate practices self-care, it can lead to the best care for patients, families and other teammates. We all believe in going the extra mile to care for others, but if we do not intentionally replenish our own mind, body and spirit, we eventually will experience fatigue, perhaps even burn out.”

Preparing the Next Generation of Chaplains

Nearly 30 spiritual care leaders from different backgrounds work together to share best practices and engage in collective research throughout Carolinas HealthCare System. The spiritual care and education department is one of about 450 centers in the country accredited to train people to become hospital chaplains. “When Carolinas HealthCare System decided to bring in chaplains formally in the early 1980s, they were visionary to make sure it had this educational component,” says Carl. “People coming to study with us get exactly what they need to become a board-certified chaplain.”