Chaplains as subject matter experts: a valuable untapped resource.
Subject: Chaplains (Management)
Chaplains (Services)
Author: Fair, Chaplain Dave
Pub Date: 09/22/2010
Publication: Name: Annals of the American Psychotherapy Association Publisher: American Psychotherapy Association Audience: Academic; Professional Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 American Psychotherapy Association ISSN: 1535-4075
Issue: Date: Fall, 2010 Source Volume: 13 Source Issue: 3
Topic: Event Code: 200 Management dynamics; 360 Services information Computer Subject: Company business management
Geographic: Geographic Scope: United States Geographic Code: 1USA United States
Accession Number: 242897537

"How could I use a chaplain?" is a question asked more often than you would think by heads of various departments, agencies, and institutions. Often they have just been promoted to a position requiring supervision of a chaplain, or a chaplain has recently been added to their staff.

I recall when I first became a chaplain. My supervisor thought of chaplains in the traditional role of a pastor, rabbi, or other minister. Of course, depending on the faith tradition, they performed baptisms, weddings, funerals, banquet prayers, prayed at public functions, and visited hospital patients. Beyond that, many supervisors simply don't know the value of a chaplain.

This column will address both supervisors and chaplains. At a recent military exercise, a longtime chaplain told our group during a training session it was the chaplain's responsibility to advise a new commander of what the chaplain would bring to the table. In the military, the chaplain serves on the commander's personal staff. My friend quipped, "The chaplain often is the last to be thought of and the first to be forgotten."

Law enforcement has pretty much mirrored the military in that the chaplain answers directly to the chief, sheriff, or agency head. The same holds true for fire/rescue and emergency medical services. In hospital settings, the chain of command varies. When I retired from hospital chaplaincy after some 25 years, our chaplains were supervised by the director of social services. In many cases, the chaplain in a health care setting is a department head and follows the same chain of command as other departments, usually answering to a high-level management position or an assistant administrator, or even administrator.

The bottom line is that in most instances, the protocols are set so that the chaplain reports directly to the highest level of supervision. Enough about the chain of command; suffice it to say that most agencies and institutions want the chaplain to be autonomous, with the exception of budgetary matters.

A chaplain can be a great asset to the supervisor by:

* Providing spiritual care

* Providing psychological support

* Advising on religious matters

* Advising on matters of employee morale

* Advising on issues of morality

* Speaking to ethical issues

* Assisting with stress management and critical incident stress management

* Assisting with palliative care and end-of-life issues (hospital

* Advising on religious accommodation issues

* Consulting on conscientious objector matters (military)

* Providing grief and trauma counseling

* Offering pastoral care

These are just a few areas in which the chaplain's expertise is helpful, in addition to his or her traditional role. The chaplain can be a subject matter expert (SME) in most settings.

It should be noted that there are primarily three types of chaplains: full-time, part-time, and volunteer. One must be careful not to assume that a volunteer chaplain does not possess the same education, training,, or experience as a full- or part-time chaplain. Many chaplains who volunteer their time were once full- or part-time chaplains, or they may have completed their training and education and decided to volunteer their time.

I am frequently asked about licensure and/or certifications for chaplains. Generally, when speaking of licenses, we are referring to a license conferred by a governmental entity. Certifications, on the other hand, are mostly issued by organizations that establish their own criteria for certification. Licensure usually requires passing an exam, often administered by a state agency.

I am unaware of a governmentally issued chaplain license. On the other hand, many chaplains have dual roles. Often a chaplain will be a licensed professional counselor, a licensed chemical dependency counselor, a licensed social worker, or maybe even a psychologist. Some states also license therapists.

It is solely at the discretion of the hiring agency or institution as to what credentials they will require of their chaplains. One very common credential in the health care setting is clinical pastoral education (CPE), in which a chaplain serves a period of time in a role similar to an internship under a supervisor. These programs are frequently tied to institutions of higher education.

There is an old saying, "stay in your own lane." This refers to the chaplain staying in the "lane" or role he has been hired or appointed to do. While some chaplains who don't hold licenses provide pastoral care, they often don't counsel in the traditional sense of a licensed counselor.

However, most states have what is called a "religious exemption" clause in their licensing laws. This allows ministers, priests, rabbis, other religious clerics, and Christian Science practitioners the ability to counsel within their own faith tradition framework, with some restrictions and guidelines.

So the chaplain and supervisor must be clear at the onset as to the parameters where the chaplain is to function. Some of this will depend on liability issues.

Some chaplains, especially in the health care setting, have made the decision to actually expand their role. I have a friend who was a hospital chaplain who decided to go back to school to become a licensed massage therapist and work in the hospital's complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) department. He would remain a chaplain and told me he considered his expanded role as a "laying on of hands," a traditional religious role in some faith traditions.


It is easy to see that the chaplain in any setting can be a subject matter expert and will be a valuable asset to the head of any department, agency or institution.

DAVID J. FAIR, PhD, CHS-V, ACMC-III, holds a doctorate in pastoral counseling and psychology from Bethel Bible College and Seminary. Chaplain Fair is the president of the Officer Down Foundation and the CEO of Homeland Crisis Institute. Chaplain Fair has sewed at dozens of disasters including Ground Zero following Sept. 11, Hurricane Katrina, the NASA space shuttle disaster, Sri Lanka tsunami, the Fort Hood shootings, and the Haitian earthquake.
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.