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Pastoral care in healthcare

Watch humanist pastoral carers David Savage and Linsday van Dijk describe when and why people need pastoral support
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Pastoral support covers a number of things but one of the main items is the ability to listen carefully to people in times when people are distressed or in life changing circumstances. It’s very valuable for them to be able to talk. And to have somebody who is empathic and non-judgmental to listen in a confidential way can be extraordinarily beneficial to people. Pastoral care is providing for those in need who have any specific questions about life and it could be in any kind of circumstance.
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For me, that is within hospital, where people are specifically challenged with topics around life and death, but also about illnesses, about making sense of the relationships that they might have while being in hospital and away from family that might be further out. So it’s about actually providing that listening ear, the empathy, and the care to somebody in those times of need.
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People find they need support at all sorts of different times. There are some people who don’t get many visitors, feel very isolated, and there are things going on in their heads that they want to articulate. Some people may be having an operation the next day or in a few days which is life-threatening. And that makes people think about what’s important in their lives, what their values are, what their priorities are. Some people have conditions which have changed their lives. They’re not able to be active, they may lose their jobs, they may lose their homes, and they need to explore what that means to them.
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I think it’s that connection that we have to each other, that human connection. And by actually sharing it with another human being, it’s very powerful. We can often think to ourselves and have that internal dialogue and conversation well you think that we’ve already touched upon certain topics, we know ourselves quite well, don’t we? At least that’s what we think. But by sharing it with somebody else, by vocalising our thoughts and by projecting that outwards to another human being and sharing that, it has a very significant power, has a specific expression to what you’re thinking. And it actually helps you to reflect more on what’s going on internally by externally exploring that with another human being.
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I have been amazed and delighted by the response from humanists to the development of non-religious pastoral care. We’ve had hundreds of people wanting to volunteer, to do our induction training, and to work as volunteers in hospitals and prisons and so on. And I think that shows the need and the wish of many humanists to help provide care and support for other people.
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It’s very much a mutual process. By hearing somebody else’s life story; it automatically makes me reflect on my own and what do I find meaningful. So I’m constantly being confronted with different kinds of life stories and narratives that have an impact on who I want to be as a person and what I want to do before it’s my time to die as well. I find in talking to people they can show incredible courage, resilience, concern for others even when they’re in dire circumstances themselves. And their humanity shines through and and I get enormous strength from the values that they show.
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So I think this ability to interact with other people, to share our lives with other people, is incredibly important and it’s a genuine privilege to be able to do this work.

David Savage was Humanists UK’s first Head of Pastoral Support and was the Chair of the Non-Religious Pastoral Care Network from 2016-2018. In 2014, he successfully completed a two-year training course in healthcare ‘chaplaincy’ at Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, where he continues to provide non-religious pastoral care to patients and staff. He pioneered the development and provision of non-religious pastoral care in UK hospitals. He is the author of Non-Religious Pastoral Care: A Practical Guide.

Lindsay van Dijk is the head of Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust’s Chaplaincy and Pastoral Support Team, the first non-religious person to manage a Chaplaincy and Pastoral Support team in the National Health Service. She obtained a BA and MA in humanist pastoral care at the University of Humanistic Studies (Netherlands) and is currently studying for a PhD in the spiritual and pastoral needs of children in hospital.

Question: How important is it for us to have the opportunity to share our inner thoughts and feelings with others? Is this essential in times of need?

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