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APC Forum Resource Reviews February 2017

APC™ Forum, February 2017, Vol. 19 No. 1
 


          
Critical Care: Delivering Spiritual Care in Healthcare Contexts
Jonathan Pye, Peter Sedgwick, and Andrew Todd, editors (Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley, 2015, softcover, eTextbook, 280 pages)
 
This book is a series of essays on the topics which the editor considers to be the critical issues the United Kingdom National Health Service chaplaincy practices.  Most of the authors share a connection to University of Cardiff Centre for Chaplaincy Studies, established in 2001.  The title of the book is a play on words to point to spiritual care as critical to health care.  The grounding is in the UK, and there are notable differences from the US in both healthcare and chaplaincy.   Healthcare chaplaincy is more unified in the UK.  Also it is arguable that the US healthcare system is the most expensive, complicated and bureaucratic in the world.   Some of the articles make reference to the US in reference to the humanist or atheist chaplain.  One noted that 37% of hiring organizations required or preferred professional certification.   Across the cultures there are increasing pressures on health care as a profit-focused business, resulting in the marginalization of spiritual care. 
 
The post-modern intellectual and academic views of the authors of this book are obvious throughout the wide range of topics the articles address.  The essays are theological practitioner perspectives on research in spirituality and health care chaplaincy.    Some of the critical issues include assisted suicide, the significance of volunteers, care in children's hospices, care of persons with mild cognitive impairment and the implications for chaplains of the requirement to provide spiritual care to people of all faiths and none.  
 
Within the book there are theological reflections scattered across interesting small research projects.   The reflections serve to challenge established assumptions and practices, sometimes in good ways that expand and challenge assumptions.  Some examples of the questions raised are the following:
  •  How essential is a classical theological education in an increasingly secular and technical world?
  •  Are faith tradition credentials the best way to assure competency to provide spiritual care across all traditions?
  • Why are chaplains present in the healthcare system?
  •  How do we remain relevant in a market-driven, post-modern context where the public square is no longer constructed around a cross?
Occasionally the writing seemed obtuse, academic and scattered.  At times I found that the integration of theory and practice was difficult to discern.  However, this text prompts us to question assumptions from the perspective of a liberal postmodern theology, provoking an exploration of the role, goal and context of healthcare chaplaincy. 
 
Reviewed by Rev. Cathy Hasty MDiv ThM BCC ACPE Supervisor LPCS Director, Health Ministry, Novant Health: Presbyterian Medical Center, Charlotte, NC.

           
Spiritual Care with Sick Children and Young People:  A handbook for chaplains, paediatric health professionals, arts therapists and youth workers
Paul Nash, Kathryn Darby and Sally Nash (London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2015, 220 pages, softcover, E-book)
 
The three authors of this handbook outlined the book’s goal as offering “…readers the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the potential spiritual issues and needs faced by sick children and young people and to feel better equipped and confident in engaging in spiritual care in an intentional way” (10).   The writers openly acknowledge that there is significant overlap between “spiritual care practitioners” with those clinicians who provide psychosocial care.  As the subtitle suggests, the writers recognize and affirm the “synergistic” work of the multidisciplinary care team, who may use similar care activities and interventions yet call those activities/interventions by different names.  Chapter 9 deals with “Tensions and Issues,” with special attention as to how the multidisciplinary team can share in the spiritual care work. 
 
The greatest strength of this publication is the fact that the authors have taken on the difficult task of writing a handbook in the field of pediatric spiritual care.  Very few handbooks or books have been written on the topic of understanding the spiritual care needs of pediatric and youth clients/patients and suggested specific interventions, best practices, activities, and spiritual care interventions.  As a result, this is a much-needed and long-overdue supplement in the work of educating, training, and giving practical guidance to chaplains and other spiritual care providers.
 
This book could be a required textbook for all CPE and chaplain training programs since chaplains will either have direct spiritual care responsibilities with children or will occasionally provide care for children of adult patients, which is common in the care of patients who are at the end of life.  Easily incorporated and used by nursing educators, physician educators, and child life specialist educators, it provides tips, helps and guidance around the delivery of spiritual care.
 
Over 40 pediatric spiritual care ideas are in the book.  The chapters on “Creating Spaces for Spiritual Care” (Ch. 5) and “Meaning Making with Children and Young People” (Ch. 6) include, for example, helping children create “dream spaces” as painters on canvas as well as the “elephant in the room” exercise to help children name and identify feelings that may be hard for them to accept or acknowledge.  Godly Play is another recommended tool to help children find spiritual connections.  Samples of spiritual care “activity instructions” and “principles, practice examples and activities grid” are located in the appendix. 
 
Paul Nash and his two colleagues also published the work Multifaith Care for Sick and Dying Children and Their Families:  A Multidisciplinary Approach in the same year this book was published (2015).  I read and reviewed Multifaith Care for the APC Forum Resource Reviews section last year.  These two books can be read in whichever order one prefers; they stand alone, but are complementary.  This book is certainly more applicable to helping children who are awake, alert and oriented and in the healing process.  Both would be great training resources for the delivery of pediatric spiritual care assessment, practices and activities that foster spiritual health in children and their families. 
 
Reviewed by George M. Rossi MA MDiv BCC, Clinical Chaplain, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina.


Our Religious Brains: What Cognitive Science Reveals about Belief, Morality, Community and Our Relationship with God
Ralph D. Mecklenburger (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights Publishing, 2012, 224 pages, softcover)
 
Mecklenburger writes that “this is primarily a book about religion” (xx), not neuroscience, psychology or mental health. It is also not a book about theology. He opens with a personal vignette and proceeds to unfold stories to demonstrate how the human brain is hardwired. He illustrates how the brain evolves to receive, gather, sort, monitor, recall, remember, forget, analyze and interpret tons of information. Our brains, he notes, integrate the information of actions into a narrative of self and community. He purports the brain is predisposed, whether we call it innate or developed, to seek paths of faith and fellowship as a way of making meaning of experiences. His theological perspective is comfortably grounded in his Jewish heritage, yet it remains relatable to those of other faith traditions. Mecklenburger proposes, however, that no one faith system holds all of the truth, as each holds its own truths as true.
 
Our Religious Brains is a sound resource for chaplains in any setting, but particularly for mental health chaplains, ACPE Supervisors and CPE students, leaders of faith institutions with openness for interfaith dialogue, pastoral counselors, mental health professionals and neurobiologists. His is a needed perspective for chaplains as they often find their work is enhanced when informed with well-rounded interfaith understandings. Paul F. Knitter’s Introducing Theologies of Religion is a resource that may complement Mecklenburger as both provide perspectives that have potential to bridge the gap of religious division with stirrings to move towards reconciliation between faith groups.
 
What holds true for each of us is that, regardless of a belief system, we have to construct our world and to make some sense out of the tragedy, pain and suffering as well as the joy, excitement, peace and profundity that life holds. If we do not, then we may have even more to endure. Religion in many ways serves as the grounding rod to connect one’s experiences of others and self to God. Mecklenburger notes, “The brain’s main task is to keep us going safely through life” (32). Is it not a foundation of religion to assure each of us that we are not alone in this thing called life? In the quest of be-coming, we choose different paths to relate.
 
Throughout Our Religious Brains, Mecklenburger gives his readers an opportunity to view similarities in our human involvements and the ways in which we process these. Whether we label our experiences religious or spiritual, they involve rational and emotional, cognitive and sensory, head and heart input for every human being, excepting those with diseases that hinder such internal functions. Our Religious Brains is well worth the read.
 
Reviewed by Robert A. Renix MDiv BCC, ACPE Supervisor, Director of Chaplain Services, and Supervisory Chaplain, Saint Elizabeths Hospital, Washington, DC.



Overcoming Stress: Advice for People Who Give Too Much
Tim Cantopher (Louisville, KY:  Westminster John Knox Press, 2015, 128 pages, Kindle, softcover)
 
Tim Cantopher, MD, has authored numerous works and is a consulting psychiatrist working with the Priory Group of Hospitals in the UK. In this book, he sets out to define stress and its causes, then following a chapter devoted to the medical side of stress, he shares approaches to get better and, to the extent that one can, to stay well. The short book’s eight chapter divisions divide into two broad sections: 1) the what and who of stress and 2) a medical description of the illness of stress, followed by treatments for it, with specific advice for managing stress in our lives.
 
In chapters 2 and 3, he addresses past and present causes of stress. In terms of the past he touches on “Genes,” “Personality,” “Parents and Other Problems,” “OKness and Cognitive Dissonance,” and the important factors of “Trauma and Loss.”  Rubrics in the chapter on present causes of stress include “I Must Never Fail,” “Other Thinking Errors,” and “Lack of Balance.” 
 
Throughout these introductory chapters, often at the beginning of a subsection, he links the topic to relevant material in the latter part of the book. Chapter 4, “Toxic People and Places,” begins with the observation that “People are the worst stressors of all” (39). People provide the best experiences of life, but also the worst. His villain list is long, but he notes that “your main attacker is you. The judgments that you make about yourself, the amount you expect of yourself and the criticism you heap on your own head when things go wrong . . . You are a cruel and vicious person, but only to yourself. Strange, as you are so good to others” (49). In chapter 6 he offers various coping therapies, such as relaxation training and exercise, cognitive-behavioral therapy, problem-solving and drug treatments.
 
Chapter 7, which is the longest in the book, presents advice on what you can do for yourself to get well and stay well. In this chapter, just as early on he had pointed us to material later in the work, so here he links us to past chapters.  The last and shortest chapter, “Kill Your Stress with Kindness,” has this advice: “Kindness to yourself works.  It’s difficult to do, but becomes easier with practice” (111).
 
Throughout I was impressed with Cantopher’s common sense approach to this subject: “Stress isn’t always harmful and in any case it’s unthinkable that any of us should enjoy a completely stress-free life” (2). He defines stress as the Toxic Fruit of Change—acknowledging that without change we would not progress, but also noting that stress causes harm.  At the heart of the book is Cantopher’s thesis that to a large extent we ourselves are the locus of our stress.
 
A final observation: the cover of this paperback book literally has a soft pleasant-to-the-touch feel, one that feels calming in itself!
 
Reviewed by David J. Zucker PhD BCC, Retired, Aurora, Colorado.


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