Sunday, June 21, 2009

A New Kind of Hospital Chaplain

I was absolutely fascinated this morning to read about a new Buddhist chaplaincy program, the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. It started last year and is accredited by the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education. While I personally do not agree with the Buddhist faith, I do agree that complementary or alternative treatments are worth looking at.

"Instead of relying on drugs and hospitalization, the Zen center encourages stress and pain relief through meditation, breathing exercises or conversation. Even if such methods cannot provide a cure, they can help make patients more comfortable. And the Zen chaplains are able to spend more time with patients, time that busy doctors and nurses often cannot spare."

Of course, Buddhist chaplains are not the only ones that can assist patients with meditation, breathing exercises, or conversation. Those activities are generally a function of most chaplains and social workers. The article quotes the co-founder of the Zen Center as stating, "There is one rabbi and two Catholic priests. They're great people, but the rabbi sees Jewish patients. The Catholics anoint the sick. Then there's everybody else." Maybe we do things differently in the Midwest but that statement is the opposite of how our chaplains opperate! Yes, Catholic patients will often request Catholic chaplains and so on and so forth. The beauty of our chaplains (we have 2 Catholic chaplains and 2 Protestant chaplains) is that they can meet with anyone regardless of their faith background. From what I understand, that is a tenet of chaplaincy, to help people access their own spiritual beliefs without imposing your own. I can, however, see how patients without a faith background or who are no longer affiliated with a church might be more open to meeting with a Buddhist priest than anyone else.

What I liked most about the article came at the beginning. Chodo decided to share his own battle with alcoholism with a medically compromised patient who would not discuss hospice or signing a DNR. His hope in sharing his own story was that it would spur conversation that would help the patient explore his reticence, ease his mental anguish, and prepare him for what was to come. There is so much talk about if or when to disclose personal information to patients, boundaries, etc. And it is wise that we examine these issues. But I also think that we can lose focus on what will best help the patient. I've disclosed personal information after careful consideration: examining my goal in sharing it, and discerning how this information could assist the patient or family member in their journey. Should you share this information with everyone? Definitely not. However, Chodo illustrated this technique very well.