February 27, 2015

“Boosting the Spirit” with Pastoral Counseling

When facing a serious or terminal illness, many patients and families are confronted with a tough spiritual challenge. Some may lose hope, while others lean heavily on their faith for guidance. Because hospice care addresses the whole person—body, mind and spirit—pastoral counseling can play a vital role in promoting spiritual health.

At Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro (HPCG), six chaplains are trained to provide pastoral counseling to patients and families in both home care and long-term care facilities. But what exactly is pastoral counseling?

Essentially, pastoral counseling is much like counseling offered by a traditional therapist, but with a spiritual focus. “Chaplains are trained to see each person as a pilgrim on a spiritual journey to find meaning and purpose,” explained Judy Haughee-Bartlett, one of HPCG’s chaplains.

Pastoral counseling may be a good fit for those people whose faiths help them make sense of the world. Maybe a patient or loved one is struggling with guilt, hopelessness or anger. For them, chaplains “listen and support as they reflect on ways their faith may need to change to incorporate this new experience,” said Haughee-Bartlett.

For those people whose faith remains strong, Haughee-Bartlett said, “We reinforce it through readings from sacred texts, prayer and rituals, like communion and anointing.”

Often, though, patients and families simply have unanswered questions or unfinished business. “Along with social workers, we may support patients in tying up loose ends, as in the case of helping them seek forgiveness and reconciliation in relationships where that is needed,” said Haughee-Bartlett.

It does not matter whether a patient is Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, agnostic or atheist. Chaplains at HPCG are trained to respect all belief systems and are there to offer customized counsel if one chooses. As Haughee-Bartlett said, “The patient’s individual beliefs guide our care.”