Top 4 Myths about Chaplains you might not know
A Michigan Medicine chaplain explains common fallacies about the role she and fellow chaplains play in patient care. Free Info on becoming a Chaplain
Myth#1: You have to be religious to see a chaplain.
Wright: Many people have an existing religious framework to go to when experiencing spiritual distress, but this isn’t true of all patients.
Whether a person comes from a religious background or not, everyone has some way of making sense of his or her life. It’s what we call “meaning-making,” and it’s prevalent in the lives of most individuals. Many people may not realize it until something disturbs how they see the world and themselves in it.
Myth#2: A chaplain is only for people who are dying.
Wright: Although some of our requests are for end-of-life support, we see many patients and families throughout the treatment process, since spiritual distress may arise at any point. Even patients with a good health outcome may still be in spiritual distress. For example, a heart transplant patient may ask: “Why was I fortunate enough to receive a new heart?” “What will I do with my second chance at life?”
We try to help these patients find meaning with what has happened to them, whether it’s good or bad. For a transplant patient, it may be a question such as: “How do I give thanks to God?”
Other patients with a life-changing diagnosis may ask: “Who am I now that I can no longer provide for my family?” or “What is my purpose in life?” We listen to each patient very carefully to identify spiritual needs. There’s an art to hearing what they’re saying and providing the care they need at that moment.
Myth#3: Chaplains are only there to give me bad news.
Wright: When patients see us, many think we’ve come to deliver bad news. But that’s not our job. Although we are there for patients in crisis, we’re also there for those who are anxious, lonely or scared or who simply want someone to talk with. Spiritual distress and spiritual needs can even arise with good news.
Myth#4: Chaplains will try to get me to be more Christian or religious.
Wright: Chaplains are not here to convert patients or to put our theological beliefs on them. We look at spirituality more broadly. We respect each person’s individual spirituality. If a patient has a specific religious need, we have the appropriate resources, whether they’re Muslim, Jewish, Catholic or any other religious group, but it isn’t our job to try to make someone religious or to tell someone to go to church or to pray more often.
We’re not here to judge. We’re here to support patients in their spiritual needs and aid them in lessening spiritual distress
We also do our best to provide for all religions. For example, we’ve done smudging ceremonies — Native American cleansing rituals requested by families before a surgery or after a death. We are open to these types of requests whenever possible to meet the needs of our diverse patient population.