Training in Adverse Childhood Experiences (Aces), Trauma-Informed Practice, and Self-Care to Equip COVID-era Hospital Chaplains
Andrea Clements, PhD, East Tennessee State University & Uplift Appalachia
Hospital chaplains have been at the battlefront since the COVID-19 pandemic reached the US. Many chaplains and chaplain residents care for multiple grieving families each shift, and even when patients are hospitalized for non-COVID-related illnesses or survive COVID, visitation restrictions often leave them alone and lonely, unlike prior to COVID when many patients had support of friends and family while hospitalized. The gap in support is often expected to be filled by chaplains. We understand that there needs to be a space for the sacred in the care of the sick and their families, but in biblical terms, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.” Ideally, the numbers of sick and dying will wane soon, but in the meantime, what are the most helpful ways that chaplains can navigate these many needs without compromising their own health and wellbeing? We have held trainings for chaplains in a 21-county health system to educate them about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), trauma-informed practice, and self-care, followed by coaching for chaplain residents on self-evaluation through a trauma-informed lens, and this has been found to be helpful. Chaplains and chaplain residents are encouraged to examine their own backgrounds to identify past adversity, to understand their own triggers to react when under stress, and to develop coping and self-care resources. They are also encouraged to use a trauma-responsive lens when interacting with patients and families. A trauma-responsive lens encourages someone to try to take another person’s perspective and understand that the person’s behaviors and words likely come from past experiences, and that most people are “doing the best they can to survive.” Lunchtime coaching has been successful to help chaplain residents to process in-hospital interactions and to encourage one another toward coping and self-care.