What is spiritual care?

At Baycrest, our holistic approach addresses the needs of mind, body and spirit. We recognize that healthcare involves treating the whole person and that spiritual wellbeing can help improve health and quality of life. Spiritual care attends to a person’s spiritual or religious needs as he or she copes with illness, loss, grief or pain and can help him or her heal emotionally as well as physically, rebuild relationships and regain a sense of spiritual wellbeing.

There is no one definition of spirituality, but in general, spirituality:

  • is something everyone can experience
  • helps us to find meaning and purpose in the things we value
  • can bring hope in times of suffering and loss
  • encourages us to seek peace with ourselves, others and what lies beyond.

These experiences are part of being human; they are as present in people with a learning disability and other conditions, such as dementia or head injury, as they are in anybody else. Furthermore, spirituality often becomes more important in times of distress, emotional stress, physical and mental illness, loss, bereavement and the approach of death. All healthcare tries to relieve pain and to cure, but good health care tries to do more. Spirituality emphasizes the healing of the person, not just the disease. It views life as a journey, where good and bad experiences can help you to learn, develop and mature.

To help frame the mission and scope of practice of the Spiritual Care Department at Baycrest, we define spirituality as the search for wholeness, meaning and purpose in life. It affirms an individual’s inherent dignity and value, and respects all religious and spiritual paths. Baycrest draws inspiration from the beliefs and values of our Jewish heritage and seeks to provide an open, caring and compassionate environment that empowers individuals to draw on their own beliefs and practices for comfort, courage and strength, recognizing the invaluable healing powers of the human spirit.

Spiritual care guiding principles

The Spiritual Care team guides itself by four core principles to address the spiritual and religious needs of patients, residents, families and staff:

  1. CARE for all with respect for all religious and spiritual paths, which may or may not be rooted in a religious tradition
  2. PROVIDE faith-specific religious care and support, including ritual observance, kashrut (dietary laws) and prayer, for those of the Jewish faith within the various expressions of Judaism
  3. FACILITATE for all religious beliefs of faiths other than Judaism, including provision of ritual items, sacred texts and a place for worship.
  4. ADVISE leadership to ensure the free exercise of religion, to counsel on moral and ethical issues and decision-making, and to abide by the legal and philosophical positions of Jewish law (Halakhah) and Jewish theology (Hashkafah)

What is not covered by the Spiritual Care Department?

In this therapeutic age, numerous options are available for those seeking guidance. While spiritual care enables a chaplain to accompany a client, patient, resident or family member on his or her journey of spiritual self-discovery, as defined above, there are other forms of therapy available that are not covered under the rubric of Baycrest’s Spiritual Care Department, even though Baycrest’s chaplains may employ techniques associated with these other forms of therapy when helping a client, patient, resident or family member.

Psychotherapy is not covered by the Spiritual Care Department. Most forms of psychotherapy help the client gain a stronger sense of self and adjust to the dynamics of regular living. Faced with unresolved childhood or family issues, clients seek assistance from trained, certified therapists to explore the reasons for their obsessions, compulsions, depression, or fears. The objective is to help the patient resolve problems and achieve a more healthy integration into society. Chaplains working in spiritual care are required to have training in psychotherapy and may use some of its techniques or approaches in providing care. Most chaplains utilize some aspects of Carl Roger’s “Client Centered Psychotherapy” or Victor Frankl’s “Logotherapy” in their spiritual care practice.

Pastoral Counselling is not covered by the Spiritual Care Department. Pastoral counseling shares many features with psychotherapy. Just as the therapist is trained and certified, the pastoral counselor is academically prepared either as an ordained clergy member or as a specially trained layperson. Both therapy and pastoral counseling help people adjust to life’s challenges, and both focus on resolving problems, particularly in the short run. Major differences, however, exist between therapy and pastoral counseling. While spiritual experience and transcendence are taken seriously in pastoral counseling and in transpersonal psychology, several schools of psychological thought dismiss them as fanciful or delusional. While therapy primarily focuses on the individual’s development, pastoral counseling seeks to connect the individual to the traditions and practices of a faith community for wisdom, celebration, and comfort. Among its main goals, psychotherapy seeks to alleviate the suffering that interferes with one’s happiness and fulfillment in love and work. Pastoral counseling also seeks to allay distress but views suffering as inherent to our human condition, providing opportunities to grow in faith, sustain hope, and find comfort.

Pastoral counseling is different than spiritual care in that it works within the confines of a particular religious faith, whereas spiritual care works both within a particular faith tradition, as well as in a multi-faith environment or one in which organized religion or identification with a particular faith community is not a significant part of the client, patient, resident or family member’s spiritual life or journey.

The Spiritual Care Department may incorporate elements of spiritual direction but is not confined to them. Spiritual direction discerns our unfolding relationship with God. It is a relationship through which a guide helps a seeker perceives how the Source of Life might be calling the seeker to greater meaning and growth, to help the seeker appreciate the divine that underlies and transcends the everyday. It is about asking questions like these:

  • Where is God in your longing? Your success? Your pain?
  • What new realms of spiritual insight are being revealed through your relationships? Your work?
  • Where might you sense the presence of the One inherent within multiple roles and conflicting demands of your life?
  • Who are you now, and who are you being called to become?

After reflection, the seeker might see God’s presence in someone who reached out or in the experience of renewed fortitude. A low time might even become a springboard to further growth or greater empathy. The shattering of our circumstances, our self-image, or even our understanding of God may actually be part of a sacred process. The guide’s role is to help seekers discern their lives’ spiritual direction through prayer, meditation, study of sacred texts, and reflection on the unfolding patterns of their everyday existence. A guide might be ordained or might have completed a training program in spiritual direction. However, the guide’s main qualification is to be receptive and to help nurture intimacy between the seeker and God.

The Spiritual Care Department may incorporate elements of spiritual direction, however, it is not confined to them. Furthermore, chaplains engaged in Spiritual Care must be trained in Clinical Pastoral Education and Board Certified as well as licensed through the College of Registered Psychotherapists.




What difference can spiritual care make?

Service users who engage in spiritual care and practices report better self-control, self-esteem and confidence, faster and easier recovery (often through healthy grieving of losses and through recognising their strengths), better relationships – with self, others and with God/creation/nature and a new sense of meaning, hope and peace of mind, which allows them to find healing (in distinction to cure) and to accept and live with continuing problems.