On the Spiritual Care Podcast, you’ll hear stories of caregivers (chaplains, nurses, social workers and many others) who provide spiritual support for people in need – and often in distress. They’re trained to be inclusive, not exclusive. They serve in diverse venues, including hospitals and hospices, colleges, the military, prisons, retirement communities, first-responder services, the emerging field of community chaplains and other settings. These providers offer a sympathetic, non-judgmental ear to people facing times of challenge, unease and sometimes loss of meaning. Our podcast explores the skills these professionals bring to the profound act of listening. The Spiritual Care Podcast is non-sectarian and includes voices from many faith traditions and walks of life. We also honor the many people on a spiritual – but not religious – journey. This may be of interest to anyone wishing to learn more about how to listen and care. It may appeal to a wide variety of listeners: clergy serving in congregations, lay leaders, social workers, medical professionals, theologians, academic administrators and school guidance counselors, human resources professionals, social activists representing vulnerable communities, and participants in other organizations. The heart of the podcast project will be stories of personal transformation, as experienced in the lives of caregivers and those they serve. Our aim is to acquaint listeners with the practice of spiritual care and to stimulate reflection about the stories and information presented.
Listeners (Part 2)
This episode considers the need to carve out an experience of silence in our own lives – as a basis for attentively listening to others. But actually setting aside quiet time can be hard can be hard for many of us. It may feel uncomfortable at times and we’re susceptible to distractions, especially amid all the electronic communication coming at us. Our attention can be diverted, even when we have a sincere intention to listen compassionately to another.
Listeners (Part 1)
There’s a kind of mystery in sitting calmly, patiently, attentively and tuning into someone else’s personal story – their experience and life journey.
In this segment, we hear the insights of people who, in a sense, listen for a living: physicians, counselors, clergy and others. What does it mean to set aside one’s own agenda and truly focus on another person, perhaps someone who is suffering?
What the Research Shows
Health care chaplaincy has increasingly been a subject of evidence-based research in recent years: What do spiritual care providers do? How do patients and their families respond to a chaplain’s services? Does chaplain care affect levels of anxiety and other forms of distress? To what extent do people facing illness also experience spiritual struggle (e.g. feeling abandoned by God)?
The emerging field of spiritual care research reflects rising interest in best practices for spiritual care providers and in growing attention to the outcomes of chaplains’ services -- quality of care, including the level of patient and family satisfaction from hospital stays. Understanding these trends has become especially relevant at a time of ever-greater complexity of health care institutions (and how they are funded).
From firefighters to police officers to the Red Cross and many others, First Responders play an essential role in protecting public safety and helping people cope with emergencies. In this segment, we consider the work of providers of disaster spiritual care. These folks look after both survivors of tragedies and the responders, who are sometimes reeling in the wake of calamity.
We hear the reflections of Rabbi Shira Stern, a long-time Red Cross volunteer (and pastoral counselor) who provides chaplaincy services in times of crisis. She’s been deployed to Ground Zero following the 9/11 attacks in New York, a flood that inundated a West Virginia community, the Boston Marathon bombing and other disasters. Her task is to listen, to offer reassurance and, importantly, to show the survivors – often frightened because their lives have been upended – that they are not alone. Rabbi Stern along with her husband leads a synagogue in Marlboro, NJ (outside New York City). She is the daughter of the late-great violinist Issac Stern, who died of unrelated causes shortly after 9/11, a time when her own mourning coincided with the nation’s.
Next we visit with Rev. James Tilbe, the pastor of the First Congregational Church, located next to the Raynham, Massachusetts Fire Department, where he serves as the fire chaplain and is also an on-call firefighter. Jim finds himself taking care of firefighters and EMTs, who sometimes witness horrific scenes in the course of performing essential duties. Jim also serves as chief chaplain of the Massachusetts Corps of Firefighters. In addition, we hear from Lt. Jeff Kelleher, a veteran of the Raynham department, who describes how firefighters process the challenges of crises in a small New England town.
Perhaps more than any other trait in a spiritual caregiver, the recipients of care yearn for the attention of an open-hearted person who can bear witness to their challenges. But what does it mean to bring that presence into an encounter with someone who may be up against adversity?
We explore this powerful realm in a remarkable dialogue with Frank Rogers, author of Practicing Compassion, recorded April 2018 at Harvard Divinity School, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (He presented the keynote talk there at our conference, “Cultivating Resilience in the Peaks and Valleys of Chaplaincy.”) Frank is professor of spiritual formation and narrative pedagogy at the Claremont School of Theology, near Los Angeles, where he co-directs the Center for Engaged Compassion, which prepares chaplains to serve in prisons and other venues.
Spiritual caregiving can offer deep personal rewards to practitioners, who are drawn to helping people undergoing distress in a wide range of settings. But by its nature, this kind of work can be emotionally and physically draining. So taking care of oneself also becomes an essential requirement of doing this work, as is discussed.
Also included is an excerpt of our Humankind documentary, previously recorded with chaplains he trained, as well as inmates incarcerated at Los Angeles County jails. That’s from our series, The Power of Nonviolence, which can be heard free at: https://www.humanmedia.org/product/nonviolence/
Connections That Heal
At the typical nursing station of today’s hospitals, it can sometimes seem like high-tech medical machinery supersedes a personal connection formed between the patient and nurse or other health care professional. But for many caregivers, that one-to-one relationship forms the essence of their service. This episode considers how connections can uplift the patient being cared for, as well as nurses, who spend more time with patients than other medical professionals. It also can help to sustain and revitalize nurses, who often are called to their work through a powerful drive serve people.
How does a caring relationship with patients help them feel less alone in the face of a health crisis? To what extent is it appropriate for caregivers to show human emotion at a moment of vulnerability for the patient? How can nurses respond to the spiritual needs of a patient?
We hear from Connie Delaney, Dean of the School of Nursing at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. She’s a leader in the movement to reinforce the role of nursing – in today’s complex health care setting – in genuinely compassionate, patient-centered care. We also listen to the experiences of Wanda Baker, a pediatric nurse and native Canadian who has worked in critical care and palliative care in Canada and the United States.
Wizened, informed, and spiritually fed
When I listen to this podcast I never go away without learning something new. As a chaplain in the Boy Scouts of America and a deacon at my church I constantly seek new "tools in my toolbox" to employ both in my church and in my scout troop. The most recent podcast about prison chaplains touched me especially because that is a ministry I have a heart for but (due to the enemy we know as time) I have not been able to continue to focus on it as I wish. But I feel this podcast was very timely and has encouraged and reinvigorated me. I assure you that there is a legacy podcast in this feed or one coming soon that will teach you as well.
Well worth your time
A terrific new series by the folks behind one of my favorite public radio programs, Humankind. Can’t wait for more!
Worth a listen!
I love the concept, and I found the stories told to be really fascinating. They're really diverse, and always compelling, I highly recommend!