A Key Component of the Hospice Care Team
Every Hospice of the Northwest patient is assigned a dedicated care team. These clinicians work across several disciplines to support the patient’s personalized care plan. The core team consists of a board-certified physician, nurse, social worker, and spiritual counselor.
“We’re not looking at treatment,” notes Halley, a licensed social worker with Hospice of the Northwest. “We’re looking at comfort, quality of life, and dignity. We’re going to offer a holistic care team that treats the whole person.” This holistic approach, where a patient’s mind, body, and spirit are all part of the equation, means having a spiritual counselor on the core team is important.
Many people think spiritual care is focused on religion. “We don’t have any particular spiritual or religious affiliation,” says Karuna, a board-certified chaplain, and spiritual counselor. “I have no agenda. Our role is to meet people where they are and walk with them in their journey of end-of-life. Whatever that looks like for each person, we support what’s important to them.”
For the spiritual counseling team, that often means listening to stories and learning about a patient’s life. “I’m here to learn about you,” says Talon, another hospice spiritual counselor. “If you love quilting, then let’s talk about quilting. I want to hear those stories. I want to hear about your favorite fishing trips.” Learning about the patient and their life can help clinicians better support them during the end-of-life journey.
In addition to listening to the stories, spiritual counselors often ask questions that may go unasked, such as ‘what is important to you now?’ and ‘what do you want for the rest of your life?’ These questions can help each patient consider how they want their end-of-life journey to look and how the hospice care team, and patient’s circle of support, can help them achieve those goals.
The spiritual care team is quick to note that spirituality means different things for different people. “I look at spirituality and being spiritual as more of an umbrella. Spirituality can look like walking in the woods. It can also look like art or listening to music or playing with the child. And all of those things are spiritual,” Karuna says.
The spiritual umbrella can also include faith and a religious community. For some individuals, faith is important and can bring comfort during challenging times. “Spiritual care can definitely include faith if that is supportive for the patient,” said Karuna. “We can make contacts. We can reach out to clergy. We affirm their faith through conversation, prayer, rituals, and other ways that comfort the patient.”
Karuna is a member of the Spiritual Care Association (SCA) and became a board-certified chaplain in 2018. SCA model focuses on evidence-based interventions as part of the healthcare model. The curriculum and certifying process include work with patients at the bedside in hospitals, as well as intensive coursework and a qualifying exam.
The SCA model elevates the idea that individuals are not just physical and psychological beings, they are also spiritual beings. That spiritual side is as impactful on our minds and bodies as any other element. This can be seen when a patient is struggling with fear of the unknown, causing them anxiety and a number of related physical symptoms. Spiritual counselors can assist the patient in various ways, such as through guided imagery or meditation. This holistic, evidence-based approach to hospice care creates a wraparound of services and tools that support patients and their circles of support.
“I’m there to be a place of unconditional acceptance for whatever they’re going through,” says Karuna. “I provide space where their humanity and their dignity are validated. I’m there to affirm who they are as a human being on this earth. And I hope that can be enough to bring them some measure of peace.”