The intensivist in a spiritual care training program adapted for clinicians*

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Abstract

Background:

Critical illness is a crisis for the total person, not just for the physical body. Patients and their loved ones often reflect on spiritual, religious, and existential questions when seriously ill. Surveys have demonstrated that most patients wish physicians would concern themselves with their patients’ spiritual and religious needs, thus indicating that this part of their care has been neglected or avoided. With the well-documented desire of patients to have their caregivers include the patient’s spiritual values in their health care, and the well-documented reality that caregivers are often hesitant to do so because of lack of training and comfort in this realm, clinical pastoral education for health care providers fills a significant gap in continuing education for caregivers.

Objectives:

To report on the first 6 yrs of a unique training program in clinical pastoral education adapted for clinicians and its effect on the experience of the health care worker in the intensive care unit. We describe the didactic and reflective process whereby skills of relating to the ultimate concerns of patients and families are acquired and refined.

Design and Setting:

Clinical pastoral education designed for clergy was adapted for the health care worker committed to developing skills in the diagnosis and management of spiritual distress. Clinician participants (approximately 10–12) meet weekly for 5 months (400 hrs of supervised clinical pastoral care training). The program is designed to incorporate essential elements of pastoral care training, namely experience, reflection, insight, action, and integration.

Results:

This accredited program has been in continuous operation training clinicians for the past 6 yrs. Fifty-three clinicians have since graduated from the program. Graduates have incorporated clinical pastoral education training into clinical medical practice, research, and/or further training in clinical pastoral education. Outcomes reported by graduates include the following: Clinical practice became infused with new awareness, sensitivity, and language; graduates learned to relate more meaningfully to patients/families of patients and discover a richer relationship with them; spiritual distress was (newly) recognizable in patients, caregivers, and self.

Conclusions:

This unique clinical pastoral education program provides the clinician with knowledge, language, and understanding to explore and support spiritual and religious issues confronting critically ill patients and their families. We propose that incorporating spiritual care of the patient and family into clinical practice is an important step in addressing the goal of caring for the whole person.

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