Spiritual Care at Western Health, formerly known as Pastoral Care, is undergoing a name change, but the important role it plays continues.
The Spiritual Care team provides emotional and spiritual support to people going through some of the toughest times they’ll ever face, in a way that is meaningful and relevant to each individual.
While traditionally Pastoral and Spiritual Care has been associated with religion, one of Western Health’s Spiritual Care Practitioners, Chanh Nguyen, says things are changing. Spirituality encompasses so much more these days, and changing the services’ name to Spiritual Care better reflects this.
“To me, a Spiritual Care Practitioner is like a spiritual GPS. We assist clients to use their resource and strength to recognise where they were and where they are now, and to be at peace,” he says.
“Spirituality is about finding connections. It might include religion, but it doesn’t have to. It’s about anything that has meaning to you, what keeps you going and what is important to you.”
Chanh sees connection and companionship as critical elements in his work.
“When we have problems with our health, nothing else matters," he says.
He said that working in palliative care meant he saw a lot of a death, which was difficult and said, but that he was grateful for the support that he can provide patients, staff and their families.
"I’m grateful to provide something, and to be with the patient and assist them to be able to step into the territory that is unknown.”
Chanh’s path to becoming a Spiritual Care Practitioner wasn’t a simple one, it was 20 years before Chanh found his true calling in helping people. From a software engineer to a Spiritual Care Practitioner in a hospital might seem worlds away, but for Chanh, he followed his heart.
“I worked in corporate finance for almost 20 years, but I didn’t feel happy. My calling was somewhere else,” he says.
A Buddhist from childhood, Chanh undertook formal training through the Buddhist Council of Victoria and started his first job working as a Spiritual Care Practitioner in a men’s prison before moving into health care.
“One man asked me how many men I’d changed. But I explained, I’m not there to change. I’m there to support, emotionally and spiritually, with no agenda. No matter where I work,” he says.
Following his time at the men’s prison, Chanh undertook a placement at Western Health where he felt a connection to the work and started his role as a Spiritual Care Practitioner at Sunshine Hospital earlier this year.
“Prisons are full of trauma, but in hospitals it’s existential.
"I feel gratitude for the work I’m doing because I see the suffering in humans and can provide care and companionship,” he said.