Chaplains add soul to support patients

A support program aimed at assisting patients with a mental illness at Tasmania’s North-West Regional Hospital has been recognised with a national best of care award by Spiritual Care Australia (SCA). The ‘Soul Food’ program operates on a weekly basis. It is run by Mid North-West Uniting Church member Irene Hardy and her fellow chaplain Jan Gray as well as other team members.

The program was highlighted at the SCA conference in Adelaide last month. SCA is the national registration and standard-setting body for people of all religions or faith beliefs who provide spiritual and pastoral care.

Soul Food is a half-hour gentle discussion group, held on the acute mental health ward, which draws inspiration from photos, poems, stories, thoughts and books. The group might focus on the concept of a bridge. This might lead to a discussion on the tide and how it can crash against the shore or drift in more slowly and peacefully.

Participants are encouraged to relate elements of the discussion to things that have happened in their own lives.

While 30 minutes is set aside for a discussion, Irene and Jan are well aware that the conversation thread weaves its way through the week.

“We open the door for discussion,” Ms Hardy said. “It is communication which can often lead to personal connections.”

The program has led to improved communication between staff and patients as well as lowering tension and anxiety levels on the ward.

Ms Hardy said the project had also helped the pair develop sustainable relationships with many of the people they worked alongside, both patients and staff.

A social worker who practises in the unit has indicated Soul Food is showing demonstrable therapeutic benefits.

Both chaplains agreed the project had helped them understand their role better.

“It is important they know we are here for them regardless of their religion or that they may not have any faith,” Ms Hardy said. “Our role is to show respect, compassion, support and care for patients, their family members and all staff.”

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