Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Fleenor on research priorities for healthcare chaplains

Transforming Chaplaincy welcomes guest commentator Rev. David Fleenor, who is Director of Education at the Center for Spirituality and Health at Mount Sinai. We thank David for his insight today and encourage chaplains and researchers to explore the article. For this Idea in Brief, Fleenor comments on Damen, A., Delaney, A., & Fitchett, G. (2018). “Research Priorities for Healthcare Chaplaincy: Views of US Chaplains.” Journal of health care chaplaincy, 24(2), 57-66.


What will it take for the profession to move spiritual care research forward? That is the question Damen and colleagues leave the readers of this helpful article to answer after finding remarkable alignment between chaplains and spiritual care thought leaders on research priorities for professional chaplaincy.

The aim of this project was to identify the research priorities of chaplains in general. Surveys were distributed at four chaplaincy conferences in 2016. 193 chaplains responded which resulted in 499 comments. The authors used a qualitative method of research known as grounded theory. A process of open coding was used in the qualitative data analysis that revealed seven major themes for chaplains’ research priorities: outcomes associated with chaplain care (by far the most important one at 41%), who and what chaplains are/do, interventions, the chaplain and the team, patients and families, perceptions about chaplaincy, theory/other. Of these seven themes, four overlapped with those put forth by chaplaincy leaders: research about outcomes of spiritual care, the development and testing of the effectiveness of interventions, the development and evaluation of assessment- and screening tools, research on key subgroups of patients.

It is not clear why there is such alignment among chaplains and thought leaders. The authors speculate that their sample may not have been a representative one due to self-selection bias. Another explanation could be that chaplains are well informed and have been listening to and following thought leaders. In any case, this alignment of research priorities is an important achievement for the field. It paves the way forward to marshal and focus resources in a common direction. If we as a profession are able to do so we just may be able to accelerate the advancement of our knowledge and realize the goal of transforming professional chaplaincy into an evidence-based profession.


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