This debate has been going on for a while now. I've written about it here and here. It closely parallels the controversy in nursing over whether people without advanced degrees, even if they've been caring for patients for decades, can claim the title "nurse;" you can read Mother Jones RN's scathing take on that subject in her post News Flash: Clara Barton Was a Nurse.
Here's the section of Donovan's article that really dismayed me:
If we are serious about providing pastoral care as an integrated part of healthcare . . . then we have to ask what training is sufficient to meet the identified needs of our patients and families. Over the years, and for very good reasons, four units of Clinical Pastoral Education, together with a masters degree, has become the gold standard for chaplaincy. . . . while I’m delighted that my friend and colleague Chaplain John Stangle first came into contact with professional chaplaincy through volunteer work, there is a reason for the additional training . . . one needs it in order to be effective.One unit of CPE is 400 hours.
Staff chaplains are now expected to have four units -- 1,600 hours of training -- plus a masters degree.
I need sixteen hundred hours of training to be an effective chaplain? To date, I've logged a measly 372.5 hours at the hospital. Nonetheless, there have been many situations in which patients and staff told me I was effective. There were people who found me effective during my first shift. (There've also been people who found me ineffective, but not everybody likes professional chaplains, either.) Sure, I might very well be even more effective with 1,600 hours of training plus a related masters degree, but you know what? I'm not going to do that. I don't have the time.
During many of the hours I've spent at the hospital, I've been the only chaplain in the building. So the question then becomes, which is better: a) the caring, albeit possibly-in-some-ways-less-than-effective presence of a volunteer, or b) nobody?
I've said it before and I'll say it again: The "real" chaplain is the one who shows up.
As in nursing, this debate is driven largely by staffing issues. Here's another relevant quotation from Donovan. Commenting on how long it's taken him to respond to a previous article, he says:
The fact that I’m so far behind in my reading might suggest that additional staffing in our pastoral care department would be welcome -- but I have to agree with those who have argued that such help should not come in the form of volunteer chaplains.In other words, given the choice between a) the caring, albeit possibly-in-some-ways-less-than-effective presence of a volunteer, or b) nobody, Chaplain Donovan will choose b.
He'd rather patients receive no pastoral care than "ineffective" pastoral care.
Does that sound like a caring, pastoral attitude to you? Or an effective way of helping patients?
I have a very strong hunch -- and I'm sure this holds on the nursing side of things, too -- that Donovan and others are so resistant to people with supposedly insufficient training not because we're bad at the work, but because at least some of us are good at it.
Because, after all, if a volunteer does good work with patients and families, if a volunteer is "effective," then that whole four-units-of-CPE-plus-a-masters edifice starts to look a little shaky, doesn't it? Outsiders might start wondering if all that training, rather than conferring necessary skills, really only hones and develops and deepens skills that were there in the first place. The Emperor might start looking a little, well, wardrobe-challenged.
I think CPE is an incredibly valuable program. I wish I'd had time to finish the unit I started, and I'm sure I'd be better at what I do if I had been able to do that.
But I wasn't able to. Nonetheless, having me at the hospital is much, much better than having nobody. I hone my skills with every shift. CPE would have allowed me to do that more quickly, but requiring CPE -- even one unit, let alone four -- places the bar out of reach of many people who'd be excellent at the work.
I hope that in my case, this is all merely academic, but it may not be. The hospital where I volunteer is undergoing some organizational changes; the training requirements for staff chaplains are becoming more stringent, and I've been wondering if there's going to be a trickle-down effect to volunteers. The most convincing answer I've gotten when I've asked is, "We honestly don't know yet."
I'll keep you posted.
In the meantime, I'm wondering if I should try to write my own piece for PlainViews, defending volunteer chaplains. I don't think I will, though. I doubt it would convince anyone who didn't already agree with me, and I really don't want to get into an argument with people who don't even want me to exist.