Choice, or Lack Thereof: Lenten Reflections in a Pandemic

You have no idea how important this choice is (from The Stanley Parable)

I started a computer game last night that spoke to the times in an interesting way. No, not The Walking Dead or Plague, Inc.: it’s The Stanley Parable (and it’s free for a limited time as of this writing on Epic). Sure TWD and Plague, Inc. certainly share the paranoia and dread of today, but The Stanley Parable deals with something that has affected us all around the world, and that choice – and the lack thereof. Without giving too much away, TSP is game in which the isolated protagonist office worker Stanley discovers that he has suddenly stopped receiving directions from his boss. The parable that ensues makes you consider whether or not the choices you make are really your own and how much control do you have of the story being told – if there even is a story.

I’ve been very aware of choice over the past week, as have all of us I expect. We are all now much more limited in where we can go and what we can do. Some choices are made for us, like what stores are open, and others are made on our own. Others’ choices impact our own lives as well, from refusing to follow precautions to hoarding paper towels. The idea of choice and the lack thereof has impacted my life most significantly in my work as a hospice chaplain and bereavement counselor. Continue reading

Guest Post: In Defense of Selfies, by Dom Fuccillo

At the dawn of social media, friends sent me a lot of selfies and pet photos. Nice.  Now they add a few words to them or call, and I feel better in touch. You may have had a similar experience.

This presumed march from self to thou may teach us something about our field: the value of reaching out more thoroughly and often to colleagues and chaplains-in-training. This reaching out can be personal, as with maturing social media or mentoring in the old style of my generation; formal, as in speaking or writing; and strong or subtly persuading others to tell what they have learned or felt during chaplaincy. Continue reading

Trauma and Boundaries: Membranes, Walls and Drawbridges

I recently attended a conference on trauma and grief along with members of my CPSP chapter. The impetus for the event was the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which was where our group met where some members were leaders.

While it wasn’t discussed, I realized that one of the things that makes traumatic grief so painful is that those who are going through it are so vulnerable to continued pain. Our speaker talked about how triggering events, images and even sounds can bring trauma back to the surface even years after. Some participants found that even discussing traumatic grief was difficult for them in the context we were in and had to leave the room to gather themselves. Continue reading

Sidebar: Katie Rottner Sings About “Broken Records”!

One of my readers sent me an email regarding my last post on helplessness and hopelessness.  She had actually written a song very relevant to the discussion and shared it with me and I wanted to pass it along. She shared some of her valuable insights as well.

“I wrote it because my stepmother was struggling quite a bit in her grief, following the loss of her mother. She expressed to me that she didn’t want to sound like “a broken record,” by talking about her mom’s death so often. But she just couldn’t stop thinking about it. My reflection was that this language of “broken” language is problematic. What if there isn’t anything wrong with the record at all — what if it’s repeating itself because what it’s saying is important?

Perhaps, like you wrote in your post, a grieving person just needs a different listening ear after a while, to help them process it?”

You can listen to her perform the song here on Bandcamp.

Thanks Katie!

Moving Beyond Helplessness: An Update

I recently wrote a post about the difficulties of overcoming helplessness in grief and grieving. Since then I wanted to give a bit of an update not only on the case but on my CPSP group’s reaction to it when I presented it to them for feedback.

I had written about a woman who recently lost her husband and since then had become very depressed. She felt that everything good was gone in her life and that nothing could make it better. The only thing that could make things better was for her husband to come back, and she knew that wasn’t going to happen. She often told me that there was nothing I, or anyone else, could do for her. I described talking to her as feeling like I was putting the needle back into the groove of a skipping record. After several discussions, visits, and referrals for her I brought the case up to my CPSP group for feedback and at least a listening ear.

The first response I got after detailing the situation surprised me: “so how long are you going to do this?” Continue reading

Self-Disclosure: How Much is Too Much?

A reader asked me a while ago about the appropriate use of self-disclosure and I thought that was a great topic to write about more in depth. It can be a touchy subject, as I expect we have all met those who engage in too much self-disclosure with those we support. To completely avoid self-disclosure though is to not use our most valuable and powerful tool, our own story. Continue reading

CPE Verbatim: Avoiding the Unavoidable

I revisited an older verbatim that I wrote back in 2011. It’s interesting to go back and review older visits and interactions with the lens of history and experience. I don’t remember this particular case, but it reminds me of several other cases. I do remember that it was rather frustrating for me, which will be evident in the interaction. Continue reading

Words Fail

Starting out as a chaplain I was very concerned about what I might say and what counsel I could provide to others. As time went on I learned chaplaincy was more about listening than talking, and learned to silence my inner psychologist and problem-solver (or at least to keep that voice in my head, if not silenced). Then there are the times where words just fail. Continue reading

The Push and Pull of Empathy

Chaplains can find themselves in some sticky situations among family members. While our primary focus is often the patient or other person we are working with, we can be brought in to situations where family members are at odds with one another, with staff, or even with the patient. We may be brought in to help defuse a volatile meeting or try and get the family on the same page. The reasons for this often comes down to two of the most important skills we have in our toolbox: our capability of empathy and our ability to listen non-judgmentally. Some people though have a knack of turning those skills against us. Continue reading

Is CPE broken? Reconsidering the “CPE horror story”

anyone having flashbacks to their CPE supervisor’s office?

If you Google “CPE” chances are pretty good that it will start autofilling “horror stories” in the search box. It seems like there are much more stories about bad experiences in CPE than good. Perhaps this is just bias toward the negative, but it certainly does seem to be that CPE is not a good experience for many.

If you follow that search you’ll see why. I read stories about supervisors that destroyed boundaries and exercises designed to tear people down in front of their peers. One person even wrote that “Clinical Pastoral Education is nothing more than a systematic ‘weeding out’ of orthodox seminarians through a process of enforced radical leftist indoctrination.” It’s criticized as being unnecessary, unhelpful, “navel-gazing”, pseudo-psychoanalysis. So why is it still required for those entering ministry? Is there something wrong with the program? Are supervisors adequately trained and supervised themselves? Or are seminarians missing the point of CPE entirely? Continue reading