Friday, June 15, 2007

Where the (theological) rubber meets the road

One thing that chaplain students coming to our hospital sometimes find hard to understand is that we send a chaplain to every trauma (gunshot wounds, serious car accidents, etc.) that comes into our hospital. 'What's spiritual about that?' they sometimes ask. Today, at a bi-weekly all-day seminar, one of my fellow chaplaincy supervisors-in-training said something that helped remind me of the reasons why -- he quoted a trauma doctor at a nearby hospital:

People come into the trauma bay as a consequence of the failures of society.
It's so true. The summer student we've assigned to follow up with our trauma patients keeps coming to me telling me about how many of his patients have a history of attempted suicide. How many of them are jobless or poor. How many of them have drug and alcohol problems. How many of them have been in trouble with the law. How many of them are in abusive or otherwise unhealthy relationships.

In short, while anyone can potentially be a trauma patient, a disproportionate number of them are from the most troubled sectors of society. They are so often from among the forgotten, the unloved and the hopeless. And, what group of people are more appropriate for a chaplain to see? What group is more likely to spark questions in the chaplain student that may lead him or her to new insights and new understandings of what God calls them to do? And what group can benefit more from having contact with someone (the chaplain!) who can model for them the possibility of being an object of God's love and what the implications of accepting God's love can be?

I, personally, have learned so much over the last couple of years by being involved in trauma cases. It's helped soften my heart. And it's helped make tougher the parts of me that need to be tough in order to care for people around pain and crisis. Trauma cases remind us of "The Big Questions" -- what is life? what is the meaning of life? why do the good suffer? what is death? etc. And addressing the Big Questions is exactly what spiritual caregiving is all about. That's true, even if the world 'God' is never mentioned once in a conversation.


I learned many other things at our seminar, today, but one thing that comes to mind is what one of the faculty said about how she works to help students to learn to give each other feedback. This is something that my first Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor worked very hard to help us with. It's something that's very hard to do well. Feedback can often be hurtful to the person you are offering it to. And when they are hurt they cannot really hear it from you. They may feel attacked and get defensive. Effective feedback has to be offered in a way that minimizes the chance of the receiver getting defensive.

This supervisor trains her students to offer feedback by requiring them all to do it. For example, after a student has presented a verbatim (a word-by-word record of a conversation with a patient) to their peer group, each one of the peers is required to offer one piece of positive feedback and one of negative feedback to the presenter.

I'm not sure I like this system (too rigid, I think), but I recognize it has the strength of a sort of leveling of the playing field between talkative and quiet students. It assures that even the quietest person's voice is heard.


I hope you had as productive a day as I did.

Shabbat Shalom!!


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