Caring for the spirit

Pastoral Care Week 2015

It’s Pastoral Care Week!

The 2015 theme Spiritual Care Together offers those of us working in the area of palliative care an opportunity to take the time to pause; to reflect, and consider the ways in which we all can, and do, contribute to spiritual care for the dying and their families.

Some twelve years ago, Bruce Rumbold published an article in the Medical Journal of Australia, it was entitled Caring for the spirit: lessons from working with the dying; and after reading and reflecting on this, I’m sure there are pearls of wisdom we can all learn from and carry in our work.

There is no doubting that the work of ‘spiritual care’ could be mistakenly dismissed by clinicians or researchers as the sole remit of specialist pastoral care workers or chaplains. But this article highlights that in palliative care, providing spiritual care is a whole-team responsibility, in that all are involved in attending to the connections and disconnections in each patient’s web of relationships. Understanding this is key; since spirituality can be understood as the web of relationships that gives coherence to our lives (religious belief may or may not be part of that web).

So, for nurses, doctors, allied health, volunteers—the whole multi-disciplinary team: how and why is spiritual care relevant?

The answer to this question may not be so obvious, but for me it is quite simple.

As highlighted by Rumbold, the people we journey with often face questions (whether they are spoken or not) such as:

Who do I belong to? What’s the purpose of my life? What can I hope for?

And as companions on this journey, we are often best placed to offer support in helping people find their own answers. If this yearning for meaning goes unrecognised by others or unattended by the people themselves, there is potential for what Cicely Saunders called spiritual pain. For Saunders, the root of spiritual pain could be found in a desolate sense of meaninglessness.

How many times have you listened, reflected, or otherwise supported someone in clarifying their values, or finding meaning in their journey towards end of life? I’m sure this is something that many of us do, in many different ways. But do we ourselves recognise this as caring for the spirit?

Of course, the issues of defining spirituality and understanding it as distinct from religion remain problematic in many respects. Approaches to spiritual assessment in clinical practice also require careful consideration. But Rumbold cautions about one further problem: that spiritual care is to be offered, not imposed.

This may seem altogether obvious, but I implore you to read on yourself; to consider what the picture of ‘caring for the spirit’ would look (or feel) like for you on your deathbed, or how you might better recognise and appreciate, as a professional, the relational webs that we all weave through our living and dying.

The 2015 theme Spiritual Care Together offers those of us working in the area of palliative care an opportunity to take the time to pause; to reflect, and consider the ways in which we all can, and do, contribute to spiritual care for the dying and their families.

Please share your thoughts with the Palliverse community

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s