Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Opportunity for Catholic Health Care: The Evidence-Based Spiritual Care Paradigm

Around the world, a new evidence-based paradigm is informing the work of health care chaplains. This is a change from the dominant paradigm for spiritual care in the mid-20th century, shaped by the client-centered model of the psychologist Carl Rogers, which focused on empathic presence and active listening. John Gleason, BCC, in 1998 described an emerging paradigm shift at the beginning of the 21st century to spiritual care as a response to individual need. He pointed to the developing models of spiritual assessment as an indicator of the shift. Gleason’s observations were astute.

Now that we are well into the 21st century, however, it appears to us that the emerging paradigm for this period is an evidence-based approach to chaplaincy. Indicators of this are the inclusion of standards and competencies about research by the professional chaplaincy organizations. For example, the National Association of Catholic Chaplains requires chaplains to have the competency to “articulate how primary research and research literature inform the profession of chaplaincy and one’s spiritual care practice.” The Salzburg Statement of the European Network of Health Care Chaplaincy also reflects this paradigm, saying, “The European health care chaplaincy community actively promotes research as an integral part of chaplaincy activity … All chaplains must develop their ongoing practice in the light of current research.” Surveys of chaplains both in the U.S. and around the world suggest strong support for this new evidence-based paradigm.