By Julianne Dickelman
Providence Health and Services has recently launched a well-being initiative aimed at employees. This initiative from our human resources department encourages us to take advantage of benefits at our disposal to nourish five dimensions of well-being — emotional/spiritual, community, career, financial, and physical. The initiative envisions “well-being champions” who are “committed to building a resilient, inspired and vibrant workplace; encouraging healthy behaviors … and supporting those around them.”
But haven’t chaplains always been well-being champions? Haven’t we always supported fellow staff, believing in the trickle-down theory that if the care provider is cared for, then the patient and family receive better care? (We may not always be as good at taking care of ourselves — but I see great improvement on that front.)
Chaplains in other ministries likely do what we do here at Providence Health Care in eastern Washington: serve as critical incident debriefers, lead prayer and memorial services for staff, offer hand-blessings and other rituals, build relationships, become trusted team members, listen compassionately as colleagues share their stories both personal and professional, participate in Schwartz Center rounds, and help create — and advocate for — sacred space in our clinical real estate. There are numerous examples of activities and interventions in which chaplains lead and participate.
But perhaps more essentially, I see great progress in our ability to clearly identify and articulate indicators of spiritual health, such as the ability to articulate meaning in the face of change/loss/grief or to name and describe utilization of support systems. We have also made progress with indicators of spiritual distress; e.g., despair that manifests as noncompliance or anger; physical pain as an indicator of spiritual pain rooted in specific or aggregate loss; an inability to forgive or to receive forgiveness; indicators of alienation from family/God/faith. We had to find better vocabulary in order to improve our assessments and charting. Now a rippling effect infuses all the dimensions of our work, and hopefully in our beings as well. That chaplains can help name these issues is fundamental to an individual’s or organization’s ability to design “plans of care” that enhance the positive and support the challenges.
What is the difference between spiritual and emotional health? What expertise do we bring to that specific aspect of whole-person fitness? I am biased that spiritual health is not one of several dimensions, but the ground from which all the others grow. When our HR departments lump this in with the other dimensions, conflate it with emotional health, I think it our responsibility to illuminate the unique role of spiritual health to overall resilience.
Without splitting semantic hairs, we may discover that spiritual resilience differs from the emotional when we commit to digging more deeply — and helping others dig — beneath coping resources to uncover profound issues of meaning, from simply surviving to transcendence, beyond flexibility in handling change to finding purpose that’s not dependent on status quo, beyond positive thinking to profound joy. How do you do this? It’s a worthy conversation.
To paraphrase Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, who said “We need to create a society in which it is easier for people to be good,” let us celebrate the ministries of chaplains and those who walk with us in humble, authentic, compassionate service, creating environments where it is easier for others to be spiritually well. Let us continue to give voice to that, to intentionally integrate, in all aspects of our work and our beings, a fluency in the language of spiritual health.
Julianne Dickelman is a chaplain educator at Providence Health Care in Spokane, WA.