Being a chaplain who provides spiritual care and attends to elderly residents in a senior living community is not the same as leading a service or working in a hospital when a patient’s life is at a crisis stage.
In an interfaith community, representing Jews and non-Jews, the religious, secular. and non-religious, traditional and nontraditional, and those who are spiritual but non-religious, chaplains have to be resourceful to find ways to connect. Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) helps prepare people to offer spiritual care in hospital, long-term care, and other settings.
Taylor Buehler is a chaplain-in-training enrolled in a CPE program offered at Hebrew SeniorLife that provides geriatric-focused spiritual care training for seminarians and laypeople of many faiths. Belly dancing proved to be a way to connect with a resident.
“A resident on my floor didn’t identify as traditional religious but as spiritual. One day, she told me that she had been a belly dancer and that teaching belly dancing brought her so much joy – so I went out on a limb, and said, ‘Do you want to teach me how to belly dance?’ ”
The resident had been in pain before giving the lesson but afterward, her pain diminished. “She told me she felt much lighter,” Buehler said.
Buehler is one of nine student chaplains currently enrolled in a CPE program offered by Hebrew SeniorLife, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School that cares for more than 3,000 seniors a day across six campuses, including the Jack Satter House in Revere. The CPE program focuses on spiritual care for seniors and their families, covering aging, illnesses of aging, and end-of-life care.
Special attention is given to cultural and demographic diversity, the non-religious, and other marginalized groups as they impact spiritual issues.
Hebrew SeniorLife’s CPE program was launched in 2007, and is run by Rev. Mary Martha Thiel, director of Clinical Pastoral Education, and Rabbi Beth Naditch, an Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education certified educator and chaplain.
“Our program is built on an action-reflection-integration model of education,” said Rev. Thiel. “This training helps students learn to listen for and respond to deeply human spiritual needs for love and belonging, forgiveness, hope, trust, meaning, identity, and the opportunity to express gratitude. The more deeply connected caregivers feel to their patients, the better the quality of care.”
“We’re able to learn from one another, which is important because there’s so much to learn from people of other faiths,” said Emily Perlman, a Jewish student.
“Part of what sustains us is doing the hard work and the sense of community, and the support we give to one another,” said Rev. Barbara Groover, a minister in an African Methodist Episcopal Church who is taking her fourth CPE class.
“What makes HSL’s program different,” said Rabbi Naditch, “is that this is not an acute care setting. Our students really engage in people’s lives, the full spectrum of joys and the sorrows. Sometimes it’s very intense, including when they support people with dementia and other cognitive issues as well as those facing end-of-life issues. And sometimes, a resident will teach somebody how to belly dance.” Θ