Early in my spiritual healing practice I went to visit a homeless man who was living temporarily in a motel. He was suffering from extreme mental distress and intense fear. I talked to him for a while, sharing ideas I hoped would calm and comfort him, but he only became irrationally angry with me, and as I got in the car to leave, he slammed the car door on my leg.
As he pushed and pushed, he said, “I am going to push this door until I break your leg.”
I was just quiet. Soon, he let go. I got out of the car and sat down in the parking lot with him and he talked for over an hour. I listened, and we prayed together. He quieted down, and stated he needed someone to listen to him and pray with him. He was much better when I left. Shortly after that, he found an apartment he could afford and lived there happily for quite a while. From that experience, I learned the importance of compassion in helping others.
Dr. Harold Koenig, M.D. of Duke University contends that patients need spiritual care generalists – physicians, nurses, social workers, etc, and spiritual care specialists – board certified chaplains (those who have completed a Master’s degree in Divinity or its equivalent in an area relevant to professional chaplaincy).
According to HealthCare Chaplaincy Network, “Board-certified chaplains seek to provide spiritual care to patients of all faith traditions and none. An explicit ethic of professional chaplaincy is that the board-certified chaplain seeks to connect the patient, family or staff person to their spiritual frame of reference, not superimpose or proselytize any specific religious or spiritual tradition.”
Shane Sinclair, PhD, spiritual care coordinator at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, at the University of Calgary said, “Compassion is a verb – trying to understand another and accordingly act.” He also noted benefits to the one expressing compassion. He said, “When you help other people, you help yourself. There is very little evidence that you can run out of compassion.” Sinclair remarked that listening to the patient is vital in compassionate care.
Self-care of professional caregivers, including chaplains, nurses and social workers, is also important. While it is acknowledged that hospice and hospital service can be hard work, Debra Mattison, clinical assistant professor in the school of social work at University of Michigan states, “Instead of saying our work is hard work, which it is, know that it is holy work.” In a recent talk, she remarked that it is important for chaplains and social workers, as well as nurses, to see how empowering their work is to themselves and others.
It is often phrased about health care workers, “A diamond is just a piece of charcoal that has handled stress exceptionally well.” Compassion is a vital ingredient in handling stress, and can be summed up in these words of Jesus’ Golden Rule, “As ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so them.”