Pastoral care – why it’s everyone’s business

Contrary to the misconception among many organisations that spiritual care effectively amounts to providing access to a chaplain, it is in fact something that all staff have a role in.


Contrary to the misconception among many organisations that spiritual care effectively amounts to providing access to a chaplain, it is in fact something that all staff have a role in within their daily duties.

That’s according to David Petty, executive officer of Pastoral & Spiritual Care of Older People (PASCOP), who is taking part in a special webinar on spiritualty in aged care hosted by the Australian Association of Gerontology next week.

Mr Petty said that while many aged care staff and clinicians associated spiritual care with the work of chaplains or ministers, they often failed to realise that they were themselves providing spiritual care through their work with residents and families.

“When I talk about spiritual care or spirituality, it includes things like having meaning and purpose, trust, forgiveness, creativity, self-expression, love, relationships, communication and connectivity, being part of a community,” Mr Petty told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Often, it came down to listening, Mr Petty said. “People need to feel they’re worthy of being listened to. And as a carer you can respond to their needs, and their emerging needs, more appropriately.”

A national dialogue

After several years of planning and discussion, PASCOP began operations in January last year with the goal of providing a national approach to best practice in spiritual and pastoral care for older people. It was established with financial and operational support by 22 aged care organisations with an interest in the area.

An increasing number of organisations realised spiritual care was an essential part of holistic care, “because everybody who breathes has a spiritual component of their life.”

Notwithstanding, Mr Petty said the approach towards spiritual care among aged care providers remained mixed. “Some of them are very highly advanced in providing that level of care and they have the resources to do that. Others still have a long way to go. We were formed to develop a more coordinated approach and start the national dialogue.”

Central to PASCOP’s work is the provision of practical tools and applications. To that end, it works closely with the Centre for Ageing & Pastoral Studies (CAP) to effectively take its latest research and develop it into resources for staff at the coalface. “Whilst everything we do has to be grounded in best practice and research, in terms of education and resources we’re very much a practical application organisation.”

While a single carer or health professional “switched on” to pastoral care could make a big difference, the greatest success was usually seen when the culture of an organisation was backing up individual efforts, he said. “There’s a lot of evidence emerging to show a benefit to the organisation in terms of increased job satisfaction, reduced sick leave, reduced number of complaints when people take an approach that places more emphasis on the individual in care.”

Ahead of its formal launch this May, PASCOP is currently working on a series of resources for its member organisations, which will range from brief orientations for staff to deeper explorations of spirituality in care.

In the AAG webinar next week, Mr Petty will be appearing alongside Chris Perkins, director of New Zealand’s Selwyn Centre for Ageing and Spirituality, and Dr Elizabeth MacKinlay of the Centre for Ageing and Pastoral Studies.

‘Spirituality in Ageing and Aged Care – Who Cares?’ takes place on Tuesday 18 March at 12pm AEDT.

Australian Ageing Agenda is the media partner of the AAG.

Tags: aag, cap, centre-for-ageing-and-pastoral-studies, david petty, pascop, Pastoral & Spiritual Care of Older People, pastoral-care, spiritual-care,

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