Monday, August 28, 2006

More on Volunteers in Chaplaincy: Education and Training

Let me continue my reflection the use of volunteers in chaplaincy.

Several professional colleagues have sent responses to my article in PlainViews, and the editor kindly forwarded them to me. The first one was from an old friend, Chaplain Dick Cathell. Dick is currently Chair of the Commission on Advocacy of the Association of Professional Chaplains. His primary concern was a question for the editor, and the decision to post my article under “Advocacy,” rather than under another category. However, in addition, his response included this statement:

I would suggest Chaplain Scott and other single-chaplain pastoral care departments first explore ideas of becoming a satellite CPE program, or at least having a CPE student or two from a nearby program assist with their pastoral care needs....or partner with a nearby seminary or faith-based college to start a field education assignment. [His] area, and especially [his] System has (sic) ample resources to access without advocating for volunteer chaplains.

His response points to two related arguments raised by professional chaplains who believe it unwise to use volunteers in chaplaincy. The first is that volunteers cannot provide the quality of care that these chaplains want to provide in their program. The second, related argument is that the programs that might teach appropriate skills are not available. That’s particularly highlighted by Chaplain Cathell’s reference to CPE programs. The first is worthy of a post all its own. For the moment, let me acknowledge that there is a level of quality that we as professional chaplains expect of ourselves, and that it takes training to provide that.

So, what is the requisite level of training? The norm to function as a professional chaplain is four units (1600 contact hours) of clinical pastoral education (CPE). This is agreed by all the major professional organizations of professional chaplains in North America. Should this be expected if someone is to volunteer? There are many congregational clergy that have had one unit (400 contact hours), whether required or recommended by church or seminary. In most metropolitan areas there are lay people who have pursued CPE, either in exploration of vocation or for personal growth. Is that required to assist a professional chaplain?

Graduate seminaries, and some undergraduate religious programs, provide courses in pastoral care and counseling, including some with supervised clinical experience. While many who take those courses go on to pursue certification as pastoral counselors and psychotherapists (a different professional practice from clinical chaplaincy), what about the congregational minister who took such courses? Some seminaries, at least in my area, have provided something called clinical pastoral training (CPT). These were programs of exposure to chaplaincy and pastoral care experiences, including use of verbatim case studies and small groups experiences, for a period of several weeks. Or, what about other kinds of training in giving support and care? I have known students who came to CPE programs who were clinical psychologists or licensed clinical social workers. What would the value be of these backgrounds in extending the work of a professional chaplain?

What about other programs? There are a number of programs currently used to train lay people in parishes for various ministries. One that was created by a chaplaincy program is the Community of Hope of St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital of Houston. Another would be Stephen Ministries, based in St. Louis. Both programs provide training in relating sensitively one on one to a person in crisis. Other programs exist, and some have been developed by individual congregations to train their own members on giving care and support. Some chaplain departments have developed their own programs for the own needs and contexts.

On the other hand, there are programs to provide theological education by extension. As a Sewanee graduate I’m most familiar with the Education for Ministry (EFM) program based in that seminary. These programs provide a level of theological education and sophistication and experience in personal growth and reflection. So, with programs providing either some level of functional training or of theological education for lay people, do any of these provide the training appropriate to extend the work of a professional chaplain?

And what about basic skills? Of what value is a sense of vocation to caring, or a reputation as “a good listener?” Knowledge can be shared, and skills taught; but on what base should that education build? There are faith groups for whom the requisite credential for ministry is the call of the Spirit. How important is the call of the Spirit (or whatever phrase would best parallel in a different faith tradition) for a potential volunteer to work with a chaplain?

I’ve proposed a number of different tracks and backgrounds. They differ quite a bit, over all; and yet any of them would give a potential volunteer something to bring to extending the ministry of a chaplain. But because they differ so much, because what each would bring differs so much, knowing all these possibilities doesn’t really answer our question. They don’t answer our question because they beg the previous question: specifically, if a chaplain were to accept using volunteers to extend the ministry, what would the chaplain want the volunteers to do?

You see, we can talk a lot about what I have posed as the second question. There are a variety of backgrounds, and I’ve had some person ask me about professional chaplaincy, much less volunteering, based on most of them. But I want to hold to my premise that the clinically trained professional chaplain is an advanced practice minister. I think that at least some of what we do we cannot delegate without a clear and fairly high level of preparation. So, before we make a decision about what is the appropriate training, we need to think further about the first concern, stated a little differently. If there are tasks and aspects of chaplaincy that volunteers may not be prepared to do, what tasks can they do? Then, the appropriate preparation would be that relevant to the tasks assigned.

So, what can volunteers do? And that will be the topic of the next post on this issue.

1 comment:

David Fleenor said...


Thanks for raising an interesting question, What can volunteers do? I served as a Patient Representative for four years and, while in that role, we discussed the same question. We decided not to utilize volunteers because of the sensitive nature of our work, which involved working to diffuse potentially explosive problems that could lead to patient dissatisfaction or, at worst, legal action. We didn't want to risk using volunteers. The only thing we thought we might be able to use them for was to make initial visits. An initial visit consisted of a friendly welcome, brief introduction about our department, and leaving a business card in case the patient or family member needed our services at a later time. The reason we decided against using volunteers for this was b/c often during the initial visit the patient would reveal a concern that required immediate attention.

You can see the parallels to chaplaincy. Volunteers might be useful to make initial visits, but what if an immediate need arises that require the sensitivity and pastoral skills of a trained chaplain? The volunteer could make a referral. That is not optimal, however, b/c of the golden moment when a patient takes the risk and finds the courage to reveal his/her anxiety, dilemma, etc. It seems less than a best practice for a volunteer to be in a situation where he says, "You have raised a very important issue. Let me make the chaplain aware of that so she can visit you within the next 24 hours." I guess one could counter all of this by asserting that the chaplain would never know of the patient's need for a chaplain had the volunteer not made an initial visit.

Nevertheless, as a Patient Representative department we were not willing to take the risk of putting an untrained* (unqualified?) person in the situation to deal with what we believed were issues that required our skills. This meant that we had to work harder by making more initial visits ourselves in order to assure the highest quality of care.

*I should probaly add, however, that there are no standards in Patient Advocacy to determine who may become a Patient Representative. I did it with a M.Div. and 5 units of CPE. My colleagues included a former Child Life Specialists, former Social Worker, a woman with a Master's degree in counseling, and a former bank manager. What we had in common was the ability to deal with difficult situations with poise and sensitivity b/c of prior training. We had no certifications to do patient Advocacy b/c none exist. This is rare in healthcare, but b/c the role fell under Hospital Administration the qualifications were more malleable. In other words, we weren't part of the treatment team; we were part of Admin and Risk Management.