Ask the Chaplain: Rich Behers

Ask the Chaplain: Rich Behers

  1. What do you think is most important in today’s environment to strengthen our profession as a whole?

Without question, the most important matter in today’s chaplaincy is a well-educated and emotionally elite chaplaincy team.  In hospice, the dying need skilled and understanding chaplains.  I look at the team of chaplains at Cornerstone and am very grateful that they possess these qualities.  At every All Chaplain Meeting we have a didactic that enhances their chaplaincy skills.  For example, at our most recent meeting, I reviewed with the team our commitment to “Outcome Oriented Chaplaincy, the Spiritual Care Algorithms, Users’ Guide, and Documentation Template.”  We have several new chaplains and the review was very profitable to them.

Cornerstone Hospice is in the process of preparing for accreditation by The Joint Commission and I want our chaplains to sail through that upcoming visit.  Also, I desire that our chaplain team be expert in assessment and documentation.  Since I presented these keys to quality improvement at the 2016 Caring for the Human Spirit conference in San Diego, several spiritual care leaders from across the country have communicated with me about efforts they are making to implement these strategies in their places of service.

Keeping alive the CPE environment is our goal so that our team of chaplains may continue to grow professionally and personally.

  1. How can chaplains get more involved with others who provide care to clients within their settings, including patients and families?

A hospice chaplain has the opportunity to get involved with the many caregivers of the patient.  The chaplain’s key role is to develop a healthy relationship with the patient, the family, and those who attend the needs of the patient at home or in a long term care facility. Everything else builds upon this relationship.  The chaplain possesses a winsome personality that has a place in his or her chaplaincy allowing for others to be themselves and not be off-put by religiosity.  Of course, the chaplain will begin with the IDT and in that environment learn to relate to other professionals such as the physician, nurses, social workers, certified nursing assistants, volunteer specialists, and bereavement counselors.

  1. What areas of research in the role of spirituality, chaplaincy, or another field that impacts your practice are most important to you?

I have written a series on “Providing Spiritual Care According to Disease Process” and continue to glean insight from research.  Parts of the series are in my blog to give a sense of what it is about. There is no such thing as cookie-cutter chaplaincy (a term I coined from conversations with several chaplains from other hospices in response to a question I posed, “How do you provide spiritual support for patients with various disease processes?”  Their responses were similar: “I do the same thing for each patient.”)

There are key spiritual concerns for each disease process that enables the chaplain to provide customized spiritual support. For example, reading the findings of The National Comprehensive Cancer Network has pointed me to the distress thermometer which serves to educate that chaplain on the journey of the cancer patient.  The chaplain may choose to review the distress thermometer with the patient from time to time to unearth potential spiritual and existential concerns such as, family problems of helping the children deal with the patient’s cancer, dealing with their spouse/partner, or other family issues.

Preparing chaplains to enter the world of a cardiac patient who is at end of life is greatly enhanced through the research provided by the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing; the Oxford Textbook of Palliative Nursing; and, the Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing to name a few.  I seek out these types of journals as I provide didactics to equip our chaplains for their work with patients.

  1. What article or book have you recently read that has the most impact on your chaplaincy practice that you would recommend to colleagues – chaplains and non-chaplains – with whom you work?

Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying is the book I just completed.  I found it refreshingly inspirational as I related to the subject matter Maggie Callanan and Patricia Kelley wrote about.  My clinical skills were challenged by these two hospice nurses.  Their hospice heart and manner are examples to all of us in the field.

  1. If you had the ability and resources to participate in any area of continued education, what would that be and why?

Because chaplaincy is moving toward a broader commitment to research, I would love to learn how to conduct a research project of my own.  There are ideas that I have that would show conclusively that the hospice chaplain makes a contribution to patients at end of life that relieves inner, spiritual pain and prepares the patient for the journey through death.  Proving that empirically is the challenge that I would like to take on.


This article was originally published in PlainViews®, the professional chaplaincy and palliative care publication of HealthCare Chaplaincy NetworkTM, August 17, 2016, Volume 13 No. 8 by Rich Behers.  It is re-printed with permission.”