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What is a professional healthcare chaplain?

Professional, board-certified healthcare chaplains are the spiritual care specialists on the healthcare team as doctors and nurses focus on caring for the body. Anyone diagnosed with a serious illness or living with a chronic illness and physical pain may be facing both stress and distress that can be not only physical but emotional and spiritual.

Professional chaplains do not provide definitive answers to questions and issues of spiritual distress. Instead, they help people in spiritual distress to identify and draw upon their sources of spiritual strength -- regardless of religion or beliefs. Professional chaplains will accept without judgment the person in pain’s own beliefs, faith and practice as well as their doubts and misgivings.

A healthcare chaplain becomes board certified by one of the professional associations when he or she meets the requirements: has completed graduate level study and 1,600 hours of supervised clinical training, demonstrates competencies through a rigorous peer review process, and commits to a professional code of ethics that prohibits proselytizing. Some professional chaplains are also ordained clergy or recognized religious/spiritual leaders depending on their tradition; some are not.

While local clergy and religious leaders who volunteer to see people in hospitals usually serve only people of their own religious faith, professional healthcare chaplains seek to care for everyone -- whoever you are and whatever you believe.

It’s true that if you’re angry with God, the idea of talking to a person whose role is explicitly religious may not be appealing; however, a chaplain will neither lecture nor judge. He or she will, however, listen, and a good listener may be hard to find if your loved ones are also grieving and struggling to make sense of things.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.