From pastoral care to spiritual care: transforming the conception of the role of the spiritual care provider
Spirituality is a difficult concept to define, one that is often understood differently by different cultures and religious communities. Illness constitutes a dramatic change in the ongoing flow and norms of a person’s life, raising questions of the value or meaning of life, questions of self-worth, and questions of forgiveness, to ourselves and others. The profession of spiritual care comes to provide support in these areas. Originally focused on religious care, the profession has shifted to providing care for general spiritual well-being, where professionals care for all patients regardless of religion. This survey presents the impact of spiritual well-being on patients in times of serious illness, as distinct from religious well-being, and the role of the spiritual care provider in supporting patients who are in spiritual distress. Studies demonstrate the connection between spiritual or religious well-being and various clinical measures for advanced illness. Studies of spiritual well-being, as distinct from religious well-being, found a direct connection between higher spiritual well-being and reduced depression and despair among cancer and AIDS patients and improved survival rates among patients with congestive heart failure. Religious struggle has been found to correlate with lowered survival rates for hospitalized elderly patients, and with more prolonged hospital stays among patients with congestive heart failure. Negative religious coping has been found to correlate with depression, anxiety, and decreased quality of life among patients undergoing bone-marrow transplants, cancer patients, and patients with end-stage renal disease. In order to integrate the spiritual careprovider into the multidisciplinary hospital team, a model has been proposed for staff to perform a short spiritual history at intake relating to patients’ beliefs and the importance they hold for the patient. The staff person learns to be attentive to key points indicating a referral to spiritual care. Spiritual needs addressed by the spiritual care provider may include aligning care plans with patients’ values, promoting a sense of peace, lessening isolation, and enabling mourning. In Israel, spiritual care is a new profession, not carrying with it the baggage of earlier models which limited this profession to religious leaders, a fact which enables better integration of the spiritual care provider into the multidisciplinary staff.