Have you ever thought of chaplains as psychotherapists? If the answer is no, then perhaps your perspective may change; particularly if you live in Ontario, Canada.
For the province of Ontario will soon be regulating the controlled act of psychotherapy, which, broadly defined below, includes aspects of spiritual care. And, like other healthcare professionals, including physicians, nurses, and social workers, chaplains may need to register with the province to be able to legally engage in their practice in Ontario.
Of course, not all chaplains will need to register as psychotherapists. Joyce Rowlands, the Registrar for the new College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO), notes that the province still honors the “longstanding tradition separating church and state” (Letter, 2013) and would not impede “faith groups that employ prayer and spiritual means to ‘treat’ or ‘heal’ bodily ills, based on language used by their belief systems” (Letter, 2013). However, a portion of spiritual care (and arguably its essence) comprises the care of the spirit, which may include the assessment and treatment of various cognitive, emotional and behavioral disturbances brought about by (and/or related to) social, psychological, physical, emotional, and spiritual crises.
Now, compare this to the definition of psychotherapy as defined by Ontario’s Psychotherapy Act of 2007:
The practice of psychotherapy is the assessment and treatment of cognitive, emotional or behavioural disturbances by psychotherapeutic means, delivered through a therapeutic relationship based primarily on verbal or non-verbal communication.
If these descriptions sound oddly similar, then think about what psychotherapy means. If broken down to its original Greek words, psyche means breath, soul, or spirit, and therapia means healing, or medical treatment. So, essentially the term psychotherapy was coined with “care of the spirit” in mind. Then, can there really be any surprise that there is a good deal of overlap?
Perhaps seeing chaplains as psychotherapists may be a way of drawing attention to the essential meaning of psychotherapy: “care of the spirit.” And, seeing spiritual care as overlapping with psychotherapy may help other psychotherapists to recognize the benefits of incorporating a greater amount of spiritual resources into the care of their client.
Either way, I am looking forward to seeing the discussion evolve and the continual bridging between psychotherapy and spiritual care.
Rowlands, Joyce (2013). Letter to Ciaran McKenna, Chair of the Canadian Association for Spiritual Care, Ontario Council.