A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

What role does spiritual care play in health care?

Chaplain listening to family

Spiritual care workers listen to help you process emotions during difficult times.

When you or a loved one faces a life-changing diagnosis, illness or injury, the experience can trigger a flood of emotions. You may ask yourself, “Why?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” Spiritual care in a health care setting gives you someone to talk, oftentimes a chaplain, who can help you process those feelings.

Everyone’s journey is unique. The chaplain listens and allows patients and families an opportunity to tell their story or share concerns. “This approach helps me meet the person where they are,” said Chris Schwanz, Marshfield Clinic Health System Spiritual Services manager. “We want them to feel that they are not alone, and they have the opportunity to feel heard and understood.”

Serving all beliefs

Caring for a person’s spiritual beliefs is like many other areas of health care, it’s not one size fits all. Spiritual caregivers provide a compassionate presence to patients, families and health care workers. They serve everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs or lack thereof.

Chaplains do not preach at or try to persuade. Their goal is to respect everyone and provide support. They also make efforts to accommodate all religions and faiths. At most Marshfield Clinic Health System hospitals there is a quiet, spiritual place for meditation or prayer.

In Marshfield, the chapel is used various times throughout the year, especially during Christian celebrations such as Advent and Lent. “We have a number of providers who are Muslim and follow the Islamic faith. We have a prayer rug, a copy of the Koran in its original language and a Muslim rosary,” Schwanz said.

Spiritual Services staff also coordinates with community parishes for a patient’s spiritual leader for personal visits. They have local Eucharistic volunteers who visit Catholic patients for prayer and Holy Communion.

“Provided resources are now ecumenical rather than strictly Catholic,” Schwanz said. “We are here to respect and care for all people as to their spiritual needs. If we are not able to provide those needs, we do all we can to reach out to those who can.”

Role on health care teams

Spiritual care isn’t limited to religious rites and rituals. Spiritual Services staff work with patients, families and health care providers on the intensive care units, palliative care, oncology, in emergencies and end of life situations. In emergencies, they contact loved ones as soon as possible and explain the situation. The chaplain will stay with families until they can connect with the care team and their loved one.

Chaplains are resources for health care workers, too. Health care teams work daily in a high-stress environment. Spiritual Services’ goal is to help workers process thoughts and emotions so they are less likely to bring the stress of the day home with them.

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