Gordon J. Hilsman and Sandra Walker (eds), Confrontation in Spiritual Care. An Anthology for Clinical Caregivers. Discovering Empathy’s Partner. Olympia, WA: Summit Bay Press, 2022. Pp. 250. $14.99 (Paperback).
By John Gillman
The purpose of this timely collection of essays by spiritual care experts is to “illustrate how confrontation can be used in healthcare and its wider culture.” The editors have assembled the contributions of fourteen authors who share their wisdom on the benefits of confrontation in various spiritual care settings.
Offered with care in the context of an empathic relationship, skillful confrontation can facilitate a soulful human encounter and greater healing. Unfortunately, however, the first image of confrontation that may come to mind is getting into one’s face, raising one’s voice, issuing ultimatums, or laying down the law. The skilled use of confrontation in spiritual care is usually none of these. But offering “constructive critique,” which conveys a softer nuance, is not for the faint of heart – or for those who have not yet fully embraced their professional authority or pastoral identity.
The authors represent a variety of professional backgrounds: ACPE certified educators, several chaplains, a few managers of spiritual care departments, along with one student and one physician. Their examples illustrate remarkably well the effectiveness of confrontation. Gordon Hilsman, who wrote four chapters and co-authored two others, portrays how such direct interventions can be instrumental in the journey to recovery for those with drinking problems. Wes McIntyre explores the “transforming potential of being confronted.” Jill Rasmussen-Baker, a manager of the spiritual care department, describes how she used confrontation with her supervisor, for example, to maintain current staffing levels.
Other authors explain how they have used confrontation with gang members in the ED, the dying, mental health patients, the homeless, struggling church communities, the grief-stricken, and those suffering from moral injury. Both successful and unsuccessful approaches are woven into these narratives.
I would have liked to see greater attention to the use of confrontation in the Scriptures, spanning the prophetic tradition (Nathan confronting David), the psalms of lament (unrestrained protest to God), the witness of Jesus (confronting, for example, the accusers of the woman caught in adultery), and Paul’s “bold speaking” (Greek: parrhesia) to the early fledging community of believers.
I wholeheartedly recommend this volume of essays as a valuable resource for chaplains, managers, educators, and CPE students.
John Gillman, ACPE Certified Educator, is an adjunct professor of New Testament at the Franciscan School of Theology in San Diego, CA.