As an integral member of the hospice team, the hospice chaplain’s overarching responsibility is to provide emotional and spiritual counseling to patients and their families throughout the end-of-life process. While there are skilled care professionals to tend to a patient’s physical needs, the care of the spirit rests with a compassionate and highly-skilled hospice chaplain.
Naturally, as a terminally-ill patient approaches the end-of-life, they’re bound to experience a composite of many different emotions such as anger, depression and guilt. Patients can also begin questioning the meaning of life, their purpose, and whether or not their life was of any value.
The foundation of the hospice ideology is that no one should be alone at the end of life and chaplains help ensure that no matter the time of day or night, each patient is surrounded by comfort and compassion at the close of life. But chaplains also improve a patient’s sense of overall comfort and well-being prior to the end of life by guiding them to a place of spiritual health and helping them see the value of their life and its positive impact. Chaplains can also play a critical role in sustaining a family’s spiritual health by responding to any spiritual distress they may be experiencing and allowing them to express their fears, voice their concerns or just work through difficult emotions such as anger, guilt and confusion.
Chaplains help provide the patient’s loved ones with bereavement care after a patient’s death by offering spiritual counsel and helping caregivers understand and process the emotions they may be experiencing after their loved one’s death. A chaplain can play a critical role in assisting the family with understanding their emotions and how they relate to spiritual concerns so they can move onward toward a place of healing.
In addition to the support and care hospice chaplains provide patients, caregivers, and families, they also assist the hospice care team in multiple ways. From acting as a spiritual support for the team, to making informed improvements to the care plan, hospice chaplains play a crucial role in helping the care team provide the utmost in patient-centered care. The chaplain builds a positive rapport with the family and obtains unique insight about family concerns regarding their loved one’s care. The hospice chaplain is equipped to discern what their biggest emotional and spiritual needs may be. He or she then supplies the team with that information and advises them on how to best adjust the care the family is receiving thereby ensuring their current needs are being met.
The approach to spirituality for a hospice chaplain is non-denominational and considers one’s overall sense of meaning and purpose. The services of the hospice chaplain are completely optional and available to every patient regardless of religious affiliation.
While the chaplain may not be able to provide all the answers a patient may seek, offering them a safe place to express their emotions is essential. By compassionate spiritual support, the hospice chaplain helps patients achieve not only greater comfort spiritually but physically, emotionally and mentally as well. By better understanding the role of the hospice chaplain, their goals for care, and how they provide that care, we can better understand the incredible level of spiritual support that every hospice patient is provided on the end-of-life journey.