Competence in pastoral ministry to seniors includes an ongoing commitment to the best methods and research that enhance the spiritual growth of seniors. You cannot know it all, thus keep learning! In fact, how you were taught, or how you did it in the past may no longer be appropriate today.
The term “Best Practices” describes the ongoing commitment to use techniques or methods that have been demonstrated by experience and research to result in desired outcomes. The spiritual care provider encounters a complex variety of needs: loss of loved ones, adjustments to living in residential care, crises, family dynamics, spiritual distress, depression, phobias, grief and loss. The chaplain, or pastor to seniors, encounters these issues weekly.
Admit when you are stumped! Chaplain and pastors to seniors humbly keep growing grow in their knowledge of counseling skills and therapies, models of grief and loss, coaching volunteers, experience in conflict resolution, traumatic events and motivating others, just to name a few. There will always be issues about which you feel hopelessly unqualified; and perhaps have never encountered before in ministry. Issues of sexuality or broken family relationships, for instance, can be very challenging.
You will have some effective tools at hand, but there is no way to have every tool that will ever be required. Moreover, research is always uncovering new and improved approaches. For instance, it was thought that the best way to deal with traumatic stress was always to get those involved together for a debriefing. Some recent research, however, indicates that this might not be most beneficial, and could delay recovery.
Another example lies in the area of grief work. Research indicates that the core task in grief is meaning-making. This could put a new emphasis on grief and loss, and call for a new focus in interventions in grief support. The Spiritual Care Provider needs to know how to search for such information, whether in books, journals and other media, or through in-services and seminars or other forms of continuing education, or through consulting with other professionals.
Where do you turn? There are several professional journals for Spiritual Care which address research and case studies in pastoral care, counseling, therapies, and family dynamics.
For instance, The Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling is the official journal of the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care. The journal has published continually since 1947 and has been advancing theory and professional practice through scholarly and reflective literature on pastoral and spiritual care, counseling, psychotherapy, education, and research.
Also, Chaplaincy Today Magazine is published by the Association of Professional Chaplains. This one is very “readable” and user friendly. The Health Care Chaplaincy Network is a valuable resource for research and education.
Finally, I add here one book (there is a growing body of excellent literature in the diverse fields of senior care ministry). The Professional Spiritual and Pastoral Care handbook (Woodstock, Vermont: 2014) provides over thirty articles on a wide range of pastoral care issues- many of which are relevant to seniors.
Our most important advice in this regard: Be yourself, love your people and keep growing!
Written by Dr. Daryl Busby