Part 1 of an interview with Spiritual Care Coordinator, Vida Jaugelis

Spirituality is essential to health for many who suffer from loneliness and fear says Vida Jaugelis
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The demanding and hectic schedules of hospitals, residential care facilities and waiting rooms, means there is often not much time for quiet conversation with those who may need a friendly hand to hold or an ear to listen to them. If these things are in short supply, even fewer opportunities and forums exist for talking about a patient’s spirituality or sharing their fear, grief or emotional pain.

However, small teams of dedicated and trained specialists around the world work quietly every day to do just these simple – but not so simple – things with each individual for whom they care. I recently spoke with a member of the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care and found out how important this work is, for all of us. This interview is offered in a two-part series beginning today and concluding next week.

Vida Jaugelis is a Spiritual Care coordinator with the Fraser Valley Health Authority. She works in several care facilities across the Lower Mainland.

Anna: What motivated your decision to this career and training

Vida Jaugelis
Vida Jaugelis

Vida: Maybe my beginning in this was as a child and finding myself in a small community hospital to have my tonsils out. After my parents left me there, I felt a momentary loneliness, but then I got interested in my surroundings. I made friends with the other children in the ward, and then extended that throughout the hospital. I felt very at home visiting everyone. I think that memory played a part in my decision. I just so loved meeting with people in that environment.

My undergraduate degree was in the sciences, and that led to a career in the field of microbiology, working in the food and environmental labs. After staying home with my children for a while, I returned to this field, but found that it was not the right fit. It was soul destroying for me and I knew that I had to make a change that brought greater meaning to my life…

Having always been involved in church life, I decided to take some courses in religious studies, and during that time I met a lay chaplain at Surrey Memorial Hospital, who pointed me to a course on chaplaincy there. I loved it. I went on back to school to complete graduate studies in theology and further clinical training in spiritual care in the hospital.

What does your work entail?

I have worked for different hospitals over the years. The Women’s and Children’s Hospital , VGH and others. I am now working for Fraser Health in their Residential Care and Assisted Living program, visiting people who are primarily older but not exclusively. Residents are suffering from illnesses that need full care regardless of age. From dementia, to acquired brain injuries or have Multiple Sclerosis. I am multi site – working in a team along with others, across 1700-1800 beds.

One of my tasks is working with faith communities to provide religious care for those requiring it. But I also train people in the community who are looking for volunteer opportunities or exploring a career opportunity. I also help them to explore the difference between “spiritual” and “religious” care. It is about listening to a patient’s story and affirming who they are as a human being.

This distinction between the religious and spiritual care that you mention –- How do you make that differentiation between those who need you to honor their religious values, beliefs and traditions, and those who are experiencing a health crisis and needing spiritual care and compassion?

I try to be as open as possible to what the person will bring into our encounter. Health care these days promotes the philosophy of person centered care. Spiritual care has always been person centered. We focus on their needs, story and values … I am not going to impose something on them. I am not going to come in with an assessment sheet with forms to fill and assign them to a religious profile. I just go in to meet with that person, and find out who they are, and see if we can build a relationship of trust.

I start my conversations by sitting down and introducing myself. Most welcome the interest. I rarely run into a situation where a person doesn’t want to share their stories or what is on their mind. Asking “how are you today?” often brings a response they really want to share – they are not well, they are sad, frightened, angry. I encourage them to tell me what it is that they would like if they had control – or where would they want to be. One lady told me that she wasn’t interested in a spiritual care conversation. She said “If it is church I am not interested.” Yet, in the next moment she is telling me about her garden and how much she missed it. I think maybe a negative experience with church gets lumped in with spirituality as one and the same. It’s an unfortunate misunderstanding but it offers an opportunity to try and build a bridge across the mistrust.

What do you see as some of the barriers to spiritual care you experience? The confusion between religious and spiritual care is probably the biggest barrier?

75% or more of medical professionals equate spiritual care with religious care. It is very hard to break out of that barrier of suspicion and labels that negative experiences with organized religion have often created.

There will always be some skepticism and push back – especially in a health care setting. It’s really two different world views clashing. Modern medicine is grounded in science — a method for investigating reality through our senses. But increasingly, what I am seeing is not science but scientism which maintains that there is no reality beyond what science can measure. According to this worldview we are only physical, biological, material human beings and that’s it. There is no non-material reality beyond or undergirding or permeating the natural world of which we human beings are a part. So to speak about human spirituality is to bring a different perspective that says “no, we are not just physical beings made up of atoms and molecules – there is something more.” In a medicalized environment under the influence of scientism — which is the reality of our healthcare system today — that is a fundamental hurdle right there. Medicine and spirituality speak fundamentally different languages and the spiritual care practitioner is like an outsider working in a foreign environment who faces that language barrier every day.

Do you think there is a possibility that spiritual care within the health system could become mainstream – what you are doing – could it become more of an accepted part of health care?

Perhaps in smaller jurisdictions and communities. I am skeptical to see it go mainstream. Perhaps we could see spiritual care practitioners as part of a group practice working alongside other healthcare providers in clinics which embrace a more holistic view of the person and what contributes to health. I don’t see medicare — nor do I necessarily want to see it — funding spiritual care practitioners in the foreseeable future.

While it may seem daunting to be working in this field, and though the possibility of mainstream spiritual care is very limited, programs in hospitals, clinics and teaching universities are springing up everywhere. At a recent summer institute held by George Washington Institute for Spirituality and Health (Gwish) at GW University in Washington DC, one keynote speaker referred to it as the “quiet revolution” taking place amid the healthcare debate.

What Vida shares here and next week makes it clear why many patients would want this kind of care…

* You can follow Vida on Twitter at @Vida_SpCare . If you are interested in finding our more about Spiritual Health providers , you can link to the  Canadian Association for Spiritual Care (CASC) website at http://www.spiritualcare.ca/

This post  was published July 30 2013 in the Vancouver Sun HERE

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My interest in the relationship between health and spirituality propelled me to begin writing about this topic a couple of years ago.

I am a regular contributor to several news outlets, including The Times Colonist newspaper both in print and online with the blog, Spiritually Speaking which is hosted by the Times Colonist. I also write on an interfaith blog, A Spiritual View, hosted by the Vancouver Courier.

My long-time Christian healing practice and more recent writing journey has resulted in many interesting connections with health professionals with different perspectives lead sometimes to more questions, as well as discoveries about the healing needs of – and answers for – our world.