Healthcare Chaplaincy 101 – Part 1

Ever wonder what a chaplain does?  Me too!  Over the next few months, I’m going to be chatting with some chaplains to find out what is what in the world of chaplaincy.  A few months ago, I had the joy of speaking with John Vlainic, Chaplain at Hamilton General Hospital in Hamilton, ON.

John has been a chaplain for seventeen years – ten years at St. Peter’s Hospital in Hamilton and seven years at Hamilton General.  John told me that, “Whether you are talking prison, institutional, corporate or health care, all chaplains are dealing with spiritual needs and come with an identity that potentially has an impact.  Healthcare/hospital chaplains are also certified psychotherapists.  

According to the Province of Ontario, “The practice of psychotherapy is the assessment and treatment of cognitive, emotional or behavioural disturbances by psychotherapeutic means, delivered through a therapeutic relationship based primarily on verbal or nonverbal communication.”

Translation: Psychotherapy is not the communication of ideas so much as it’s the human to human interaction.  And what about the spiritual needs piece of the role?  What is spirituality?  John’s Coles Notes version, “Spirituality has most to do with where a person finds meaning, how a person connects to the “more than dimension.””

For example, “A person comes to me in despair, wishing they could die, I try to find out where they find meaning in life.  I try to connect them.  And review the things in their life that have made them feel connected – things they have done, relationships, people, the world in general or God. But my job is to try to help them to locate where they find meaning.  That’s my job even if the person is not at all religious.  Sometimes God opens the door, and they want faith brought in.”

John sees people from all faiths, “Some Muslims want the Iman, and some want the holy man from the hospital.  Some didn’t want the Rabbi, but they wanted me.  And that is part of the role of the chaplain is to find the person they want.  I don’t have an identity as the religious man although for many patients that’s what they put on me, so I always check to see who I am for them.  I’m going where they want to go and not where I want to go.”

At the same time, John considers himself a missionary, “I pray that the people I see will come to know the living God whose best view is Jesus.  But I have to depend on seeds sown by others throughout their lives and the work of the Spirit.”

Coming soon…Part 2 of John’s story!