My intention here is not to engage in claims and counterclaims. Having been assigned as a ‘Spiritual Director’ with GYMHA, it is expedient to elucidate how Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care can employ spirituality to address mental health and wellbeing issues especially among the youths globally.
I will therefore present the area of discussion as simple as possible without overindulging in an academic exercise. Our focus here is to consider the relationship between Spiritual Care and Psychological First Aid. The two concepts – Spiritual Care and Psychological First Aid – appear worlds apart but share a lot of benefits to humanity, especially those who are experiencing or have experienced trauma, crisis, emergencies, grieve, or broken heart syndrome.
Psychological First Aid has been variously defined by practitioners. I will attempt to bring out some of the definitions for a better understanding. Please note that the definitions are not originally mine. – It is a humane, supportive, and practical assistance to fellow human beings who recently suffered a serious stressor. – It is an evidence – informed approach that is built on the concept of human resilience. It aims to reduce stress symptoms and assist in healthy recovery following a traumatic event, natural disaster, public health emergency or even a personal crisis – It is a globally recommended training for supporting people during emergencies and offers guidance on delivering psychosocial care in the immediate aftermath of the emergency event.
Spiritual Care on the other hand is simply defined as the care for the human spirit. It is a crucial aspect of holistic health. Even the World Health Organization (WHO) agrees that the spiritual dimension of health is increasingly recognized.
Spiritual Care attends to a person’s spiritual (and religious) needs as he or she copes with illness, loss, grief, or pain and can help him or her heal emotionally as well as physically, rebuild relationships and regain a sense of spiritual wellbeing. Spiritual care empowers individuals to draw on their own beliefs and practices for comfort, courage, and strength recognizing the invaluable healing powers of the human spirit. It is nurturing the human spirit to be able to heal any other area of life.
It is generally agreed that a person is made up of the body, soul, and spirit. These three components are crucial to the survival or otherwise of a human being. They also relate and are interrelated. Anything that affects one component if not holistically treated, can affect the other components. Death then becomes the final separation of the human spirit and soul from the body. Physicians and other medical personnel treat the body. They ensure the body is sound and fit to contain the spirit and soul.
Psychologists and other related mental health professionals attend to the psychological needs to ensure emotional and mental health and wellbeing. The soul of a human being – regarded as the seat of decision – is said to contain the emotion, feelings, will, mind, intellect, and conscience. Here lies the power to decide to take a new course of life, forget a person, move on after mourning, start all over again, give up, commit suicide, or engage in any exercise resulting to attitudinal and behavioral change.
Spiritual Care Specialists are trained, licensed, and certified to attend to the spiritual (and in some cases religious) needs of a person. Spiritual care practitioners have an understanding that all people are spiritual but not all are religious. They appreciate the fact that some people have religious problems but not spiritual problems and vice versa. They are aware of the fact that no one came into this world with any religion, but we all came with spirituality – the yearning to connect with self, others, environment, and God (the Transcendent). It is no longer news that in times of crisis, ill health, emergencies, grief, and disappointments, etc, people turn to spirituality to draw strength and activate their coping mechanism. This helps them overcome fear, anxiety, stress, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
People turn to their Spiritual Centres as means to access coping strategies. Let us note at this point that religion is a means of accessing spirituality. Religious resources like symbols, rituals, practices, books, music, prayer, meditation, sacraments are at the forefront of connecting people with spirituality in times of crisis. Others identify other personal means outside religion to access spirituality during disorientations.
Professionals trained as ‘Interfaith’ Chaplains or Spiritual Care practitioners come to attend to ‘whomsoever’ without imposing their religious beliefs on a patient. They are trained to facilitate a patient to activate his or her religious or spiritual resources as a coping mechanism. Faith-based religious leaders of all religions also play a critical role in helping people to use religious resources to access spirituality for comfort, meaning, purpose, direction, self-worth, connection, and reconciliation. This is crucial to their psychological and physical recovery.
The point is that, since the spiritual controls the emotional and the physical, if a person’s spiritual needs are met, it becomes easy to enable the emotions and body to recover. It is however surprising that people take care of their physical and emotional health but are less concerned about their spiritual health and wellbeing because they don’t want to be viewed as ‘spiritual’. Spiritual wellbeing has a gigantic effect on emotional and physical health. This is the role that Hospital Chaplains and Spiritual Care practitioners clinically play in hospitals all over the world. This is a different role from what the hospital evangelism/visitation clergies of different religions play when they visit hospitals to pray, evangelize and donate items to inpatients. Other Chaplains and Spiritual Care professionals have specialized in providing for the spiritual needs of people at educational institutions, correctional centers, welfare facilities, corporate settings, law enforcement agencies, and the society at large.
During the administration of Psychological First Aid, the application of Spiritual Care can come in handy to complement. Spiritual and religious resources can play a significant role in Psychological First Aid by helping people access their spiritual center and draw strength and other coping strategies that will calm their spirit, thus, having a tremendous healing power on their emotions and bodies.
Let me also say that Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care specialists are clinically trained, certified, and licensed to practice. To qualify as a Spiritual Care specialist, one is expected to complete four units of Clinical Pastoral Education (which is equivalent to 1,600 Clock Hours of supervised CPE) and a master’s degree in divinity. Endorsement by a faith group and certification/license from a recognized chaplaincy or Spiritual Care association is also required. Spiritual intervention is not all about casting and binding. It is not a trial and error approach. It is a clinical procedure of assessment, diagnosis, care plan, treatment, and evaluation. There are clearly identified assessment models used by professionals to diagnose the spiritual needs of a person in the midst of many needs. Spiritual Care practitioners are aware of their scope of practice, the standard of practice, and ethical codes guiding their practice. They are mandated to cooperate and collaborate with professionals from other disciplines for easy referral. The practice is research, documentary, and evidence base. As a matter of fact, Psychological First Aid is one of the required areas to be covered during Chaplaincy and Spiritual Care training.
To ensure a holistic recovery of a patient or client who is experiencing or has experienced trauma, illness, grief, crisis, or broken heart among others, spiritual care can be incorporated into Psychological First Aid. Care can only be said to be holistic if a patient’s physical, psychological, mental, and spiritual needs are met.
To holistically address youth mental health and wellbeing, Spiritual Care is indispensable. There is a need to also understand a therapy known as ‘Psycho-Spiritual Care’ used by practitioners to handle the psychological and spiritual needs of a person. Psycho-Spiritual Care is a care package that attends to the psychological and spiritual needs of a person. This makes it easier for the medical team to attend to the needs of the patient’s body. Some are even of the view that Spiritual Care is a therapy in Psychological First Aid. The argument is that people who are spiritual and religious are likely to pay attention to spiritual care/ intervention during trauma or crisis than what they would likely consider as a ‘mere sweet talk therapy’ to make them temporarily take their minds off a challenge. There is a high level of believability in Spiritual Care.
Herein lies the significant relationship between Spiritual Care and Psychological First Aid.