Advancing Spiritual Care Through Research

Conference report: Dutch Case Studies Project

Our colleague Martin Walton, PThU, Netherlands writes on the recent conference of the Dutch Case Studies Project:

The “Universitaire Centrum Geestelijke Verzorging” (UCGV) in the Netherlands is a cooperative venture of Tilburg School of Catholic Theology (TST) and the Protestant Theological University (PThU). Founded in 2018, it combines expertise in various fields of chaplaincy studies (health and primary care, military, prisons) as well as health care ethics and sociology. The Centre builds upon previous cooperation in the Centre for Prison Chaplaincy (since 2009) and the Dutch Case Studies Project (since 2016). Its mission is to strengthen the field of chaplaincy and spiritual care by contributing to sound research, good education and improved cooperation for the sake of everyone who receives, or needs to receive, spiritual care.

One of the main projects of the UCGV is the Case Studies Project (CSP). Characteristic of the project is the use of a set format and of consensus building in research communities of chaplains and academic researchers.The format includes attention to the influence of theory and religious position on the care process, to feedback from the client (system) and from other care providers and to the identification of verifiable outcomes. The research communities follow an appreciative and evaluative procedure for the sake of explicating theory, clarifying critical issues and developing criteria for good practices. At present, six research communities are active, five with chaplains from a specific setting of chaplaincy care (general hospitals, psychiatry, elderly care, prisons and the military) and one of which is mixed (rehabilitation, primary care, juvenile care, care for those with intellectual disabilities, etc.). The communities are led by academic researchers, who together with other colleagues form a research collaboration group. In total 56 chaplains and 10 academic researchers are involved.

On February 25 – 26, 2019 the UCGV held an international conference on case studies research in chaplaincy studies in Amsterdam. Approximately 30 workshop presentations and main lectures, including researchers from Belgium, Denmark, Germany, United Kingdom and the United States, addressed the questions: What are we learning from case studies in chaplaincy care? What are we learning about case studies research? What are chaplains learning by participating in case studies research?

Jacques Körver, director of the UCGV, introduced the approach of the Dutch CSP. George Fitchett (USA) placed case studies research in an historical perspective. He pointed to the need to be more specific and concrete in identifying outcomes of chaplaincy care. Steve Nolan (UK) looked more closely at what we are learning from the initial case studies. He sees elements that are common to other professions like that of psychotherapy and elements more specific to chaplaincy care, such as working with the meaning system of the client and the use of ritual. Gaby Jacobs (Netherlands) located the methodology of case studies research in narrative and practitioner oriented research. Jan Willem Veerman (Netherlands) illustrated with the help of an ‘effect ladder’ the contribution of case studies to the provision of the ‘best available evidence’ for chaplaincy care. Niels den Toom (Netherlands) concluded the conference by pointing to experienced tensions and affinities between the practice of chaplaincy and doing research among participants in the CSP.

Other (cooperative) research projects in which the UCGV and its staff members are involved include chaplaincy care in primary palliative care; catastrophe chaplaincy care; the role of volunteers in supporting former prisoners, etc. From July 8-12, 2019 the UCGV will be collaborating with the University of Humanistic Studies (Utrecht) and the European Research Institute for Healthcare Chaplains (Leuven) in an International Chaplaincy Research Summer School. These collaborative efforts with other research departments and with societal partners is at the heart of what the UCGV is about. Future conferences and consultations will deal with ritual in chaplaincy care, with the role of religion and world views in chaplaincy care and with moral injury in military and non-military settings.

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