The Bahá’í Faith doesn’t have a priesthood so it may seem odd that we are training Chaplains in the UK. The riddle is solved when you realise that the NHS, and other organisations as well, recognise the word Chaplain and reckon they know what Chaplains do, and the NHS needs us to train and accredit people to work for them in that capacity. Also ‘Chaplain’ is easier to say than ‘spiritual caregiver.’
It’s fascinating to be involved in this kind of work and we’re building up a cohort of experienced and enthusiastic people to take it on.
There is though a challenge facing us that was not immediately obvious when we started. Because the basic front-line work seems pretty obvious and the oddities of the NHS no worse than those of any other big organisation, the task of preparing people for this work in that context didn’t seem like rocket science especially as we had the input and support of more experienced people with a long history of working in the NHS.
The catch though has now become apparent. We lack our own overall sense of what we are doing, a sense that is rooted in our understanding of human beings and the way we solve difficult problems rather than in a model borrowed either from the medical culture of the NHS or from the predominantly Christian culture of Chaplaincy.
It’s not that there is anything wrong with either of those cultures in themselves, but their underlying assumptions are different both from each other’s and from ours. If we are to bring something of value that is uniquely ours we need our own model of spiritual care in a medical context.
It would be simplistic and inaccurate to claim that all the models of chaplaincy out there are either medical or Christian. There are many example that are not derived from either culture and we can learn something from all of them. Caring for the Spirit, an orientation document written under the auspices of the South Yorkshire Workforce Development Corporation, mentions several (the website I downloaded it from is no longer operative: you can access it from this link on this site).
They describe, for example, a theoretical model of spiritual care developed from work by David Lyall and outline its characteristics which include spiritual care as a response to the spiritual needs of a person understood through exploring life events, beliefs, values and meaning and as as a means of therapeutic support to enable a person challenged by illness, trauma, or bereavement to find meaning in their experiences of vulnerability loss or dislocation. It is an holistic model.
They also look at practice models based upon a simple four stage framework such as that involving assessment, care planning, care delivery, and review.
They give examples in tabular form of how that model might be applied. Its box-like quality appeals to our need for simple clarity but may betray much of the subtlety of what is going on. They argue that, though a simple model, it is capable of use as a complex tool to explore practice and the skills/knowledge and procedures used.
They acknowledge that many of the available models are based on the biomedical model that focuses upon the pathology of the patient and its treatment. They feel though that more person-centred and holistic models are increasingly being recognised as valuable and therapeutic.
These understand disease as one aspect of an illness process and take account of wider factors and the context of the patient’s life. Different care models also support the ethical position of the patient as a person who contributes to decision-making and the care process. Chaplaincy holds a high value of personhood and is attentive to the wider context of the person. The implicit model of chaplaincy is one that needs better articulation but which has much to contribute to current developments in the care of patients.
They cite the model developed by Gerkin as an example (Gerkin CV – 1997 – An Introduction to Pastoral Care: Nashville: Abingdon). It recognises that an important part of the chaplaincy process takes place by way of a dialogue
between the particular life story of the individual and stories of the faith group communities and their beliefs and values. The chaplain is located in the space between the individual and the faith group she or he represents. . . . . It may be that, on occasions, the chaplain is focussed more on helping the person to articulate their story; whilst at other times the chaplain may be speaking more from the side of a faith tradition in order to enrich and inform the dialogue. The model suggests that a chaplain may move between the stories of the individual and the faith community to facilitate effective and caring dialogue.
They conclude where we need to begin:
Chaplains will need to decide for themselves whether their care of patients fits best with the biomedical model or with the social model proposed above or with some other model of their own adoption. Whichever model of care for individual patients is adopted by individual chaplains, this needs also to be aggregated into a model of the service provided for all users.
Developing a Bahá’í Model of Spiritual Care
Over the coming weeks a number of us will be thinking about how to develop a Bahá’í model of spiritual care and I will be sharing some of that thinking on this blog as time goes on. Clearly these will draw on many of the ideas explored at length in this blog, for example that we have an immortal soul (and I know we’re not the only ones to believe that), that reflection and consultation are central components of a rich spiritual life and a consciously nurtured interaction between action, reflection, consultation and Bahá’í ‘scripture’ is essential if we are to learn how to live better. We’re working on how to build these into a model of spiritual care that will work in the NHS with patients of all faiths and of none — the model of chaplaincy being now developed on the NHS is very much a multi-faith one where all chaplains are ideally available for all patients though a patient can request someone of their own faith if (s)he so wishes.
We would love to hear from you, whether you are a Bahá’í or not, with your ideas about what a good model of spiritual care should consist of.