“The thing I love most about my job is being with the service users."
“Five years ago I saw the advert to become a chaplain for Sussex Partnership Trust and knew instantly that this was what I wanted to do.
“I had had my own experience of how spirituality can improve and heal our mental distress and pain and knew that I wanted to be involved in being alongside others struggling with these issues too, not just to help but also to learn and share. I think the questions as to how we live well and happily are the most fundamental questions we ask ourselves.
“I joined the NHS in June 2013. I wanted to work in a very different atmosphere from being a parish priest, one where I could be more focussed on the pastoral and spiritual role, where the professional boundaries are a help in the work you do and actually help you get alongside people better.
“Essentially, my role as a chaplain is to respond to the spiritual needs of patients, carers and staff. I do this by offering non judgemental and person centred care. I am not there to convert anyone or persuade them of anything but to get alongside people on their journey and share that with them even if only for a short while.
“Spirituality is about affirming our humanity, our need for connection, purpose and meaning in our lives and our intrinsic worth as human beings. I also help to run ward groups and activities, such as discussion groups, meditation and religious services. As lead chaplain I also try and support the other staff in the chaplaincy team and other staff who are dealing with spiritual issues for themselves or service users. As a team we have done quite a bit of training to support faith communities in supporting people who have mental health problems. This is enormously important in keeping people well and out of hospital and also reducing stigma in faith communities so that they can access health care.
“The thing I love most about my job is being with the service users. I have had the most amazing and moving conversations and encounters with people who, often because of their mental ill health rather than despite it, have gained the most powerful insights into life; people who have had the most extraordinary struggles and have come through. I often feel I have got more out of the conversation than I have put into it, but it is all about shared experiences of life, our responses to trauma and stress in which we find how transformative so much of that response is even if painful. Part of what I do is help people find a spiritual framework to understand what has happened to them and what they have experienced. Religions have been pondering on these things for thousands of years and we can still learn from that shared wisdom of humanity.
“I think the NHS is really special. It is a universal service offered to everyone and is not about whether you can afford it. It should be everyone’s birth right to have good health care; it is the most fundamental sign of humanity to wish your neighbour to be well and the NHS affirms the dignity of each person to be treated equally when it comes to the most important part of our lives – our health and wellbeing.
“Right now, I fear for the NHS. Politically it seems there is a desire to sell it off, but healthcare should not be about profit, but service to our fellow human beings and part of the glue of our society. I think on the positive side there is a huge amount of amazing work going on to look at health in a more holistic light. We know more than ever the influence of lifestyle, social contact and meaning on our wellbeing. I hope the NHS will continue to do this for the whole of our society.
“Spirituality is changing to a more broad based view of what brings us meaning and purpose in our lives, which for some is answered by religion but not for all. We are rewriting our Spirituality Strategy this year to reflect that change. It means letting go of some traditional ideas about the place of religion but it opens up many more aspects. As Jon Kabat-Zinn said, Spirituality is about what makes us human and the search for meaning, peace of mind, connection to the bigger world around us is such a fundamental part of our wellbeing. So, for example, at the moment I am co-facilitating a group on happiness. It is a particular joy and we are able to share our spiritual journeys, our joys and sorrows and learn from each other and affirm each other’s humanity.”