Understanding Spiritual Care

AMOREM’s Service Podcast serves the mission to provide quality, thoughtful, loving care to patients and support to their families and to offer education and grief support to communities served. This podcast is intended to transform the way that people view and experience serious illness and end-of-life.

Episode 3 of AMOREM’s Service Podcast, Spiritual Care, is led by AMOREM’s Director of Faith Outreach, William Williamson, MDiv. Williamson provides an in-depth understanding of spiritual care and the crucial role that it plays in the hospice care setting. He helps audience members to better understand the role of a chaplain, the role of spirituality during the end-of-life journey and assists in the understanding of differences between chaplains and ministers.

When first onboarded with AMOREM, Williamson was a chaplain working with hospice patients within AMOREM’s service areas. He finds importance in speaking about this time to help the audience better understand the role of a chaplain in a hospice patient’s life.

Willaimson explains that many individuals have a misunderstanding of chaplain services. He prompts the listener to think of the differences between a minister and a chaplain by looking at the settings in which you find each professional. Commonly, a minister can be found in a setting that is focused on a single truth or single message. This is why one would seek a minister on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday; to hear their version of truth.

Chaplains, on the other hand, are religious professionals who happen to be in a secular institution. This requires them to adopt more of a multi-faith approach versus a traditional approach to spirituality. Williamson stresses that chaplains must be open to everyone and every belief system.

Chaplains are commonly found in academic settings, military settings and healthcare settings. In the medical setting, chaplains function like any other care provider who assesses a medical need, creates a treatment plan for the need and reaches for the goals and results of the treatment plan.

Williamson explains that in the hospice setting, chaplains on AMOREM teams provide patients with a spiritual assessment and create a spiritual treatment plan to assist the patient in obtaining any spiritual goals to bring them more comfort and support.

There are a variety of spiritual assessment models that chaplains utilize when evaluating a patient. It can be thought of like psychology, where there are different models and schools of thought that can be utilized. He mentions that while there are several schools of spiritual thought and models to use, most chaplains are looking for the same basic things. Willaimson describes the George Fitchett 7 by 7 model which he commonly utilizes.

This model underlines 7 specific spiritual dimensions:

  • Belief and Meaning
    • How does the patient create meaning out of their life?
    • What do they assert that they believe in?
  • Vocations and Obligations
    • What do they believe they are here to do?
  • Spiritual Experiences and Emotions
    • Do they feel spiritually fulfilled or unfulfilled?
    • Are there experiences causing spiritual anxiety?
    • Is there a spiritual crisis or spiritual change?
    • Is there an opportunity for courage and growth?
  • Rituals and Practices
    • What practices or rituals are important to this patient that the spiritual care team can support them in?

Williamson notes that the previous 5 dimensions are mostly involved with how the patient or individual sees themselves and their place in the world. The last 2 dimensions are focused more on how an individual interacts with others.

  • Religious Communities
    • Is this patient a member of a religious community?
    • Is there an opportunity for the chaplain to act as a liaison between the patient and their faith community?
  • Spiritual Authority
    • Is there guidance this patient seeks from spiritual leaders?

When asked how these 7 dimensions are implemented into a patient’s plan of care, Williamson explains that the evaluation is done mostly through conversation with a patient and by gaining an understanding of their spiritual background. He describes it in many ways as being an opportunity for a patient to preach to him. In the podcast, Williamson provides a hypothetical situation with a cancer patient and how he might implement care in each dimension listed. You can listen to this scenario on one of the many streaming platforms available to you.

The vast majority of a chaplain’s time with a patient is spent sitting and talking with the patient and their family about their spiritual and theological beliefs and assisting them in the rituals or practices that may benefit them at that time.

When addressing different spiritual backgrounds, Williamson explains that the role of a chaplain is to meet the patient exactly where they are at. The agenda is to help a patient experience increased comfort. A chaplain should not impose any spiritual tools on a patient or their family, rather, they should assist the patient and family in utilizing their own tools. Chaplains approach each patient case differently depending on their needs and what they have articulated that they find spiritually comforting.

Another point raised, that may feel unfamiliar, is that a chaplain can assist in funeral arrangements or memorial services for patients and their families. Often, they are found helping at these events because the family is comfortable with the chaplain and has created trust with their chaplain. They know that the chaplain will respect and honor the patient’s wishes and that they will help craft a funeral or memorial service that is meaningful and truly honors their loved one.

Now, in his role as director of faith outreach, Williamson has a heavy focus on giving back to the faith communities that have given so much to AMOREM throughout the past four decades. Having a director of faith outreach allows the organization to communicate with congregations to help in supporting them. Much of this support revolves around education. The director of faith outreach provides education about hospice services, palliative care services and assists with advance care planning. This allows for the organization to have a liaison between the faith community and the medical community.

If you are interested in having Williamson guide a conversation or host a workshop at your congregation, please reach out to him at wwilliamson@amoremsupport.org or call 828.754.0101.

AMOREM’s Service Podcast is proudly brought to you by AMOREM, your local, nonprofit, hospice and palliative care provider. AMOREM has provided services to the community for more than 40 years, formerly as Caldwell Hospice and Palliative Care and Burke Hospice and Palliative Care, and has served in the High Country for more than 10 years. To learn more or to make a referral, please visit www.amoremsupport.org or call 828.754.0101 to speak with a local team member.