Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Hospital Chaplain

Recently I have been working on the mental health units in a hospital as part of my chaplain residency. I was given the assignment of the mental health unit. It would never be a unit in a hospital that I would choose. If I had to be honest, it was downright scary and overwhelming to be with people with mental illness. I was so scared of mental illness that, out of choice, I would avoid people with mental health problems at all cost, or would be pleasantly nice on the outside with no sense of being a Christ presence to them.  

S. Trish Dick, OSB also does dog-sledding
retreats for our college
What was so scary was that I didn’t think I could relate to them and often treated them like “lepers” – untouchables in my life. I didn’t set out to be this way and believe most of humankind doesn’t either. Yet, through cultural influences and prejudices, as well as my own prejudices I shied away, ignored or, truthfully, ran as far as I could from mental illness. 

Through my experience on the mental health unit, I have come to realize that the pain people with mental illness reflect back to me is my pain. I just might have a more sophisticated ways of self-protection and hiding my own woundedness and pain. In coming to grips with my own mental illness of PTSD, it set in motion a realization that they were actually no different from me in this journey of life. Yes, I might not have the same mental and physical suffering but, on a human level, I carry with me the same woundedness, pain, and desire to belong and be loved.  

As I tap into this pain and befriend it, it provides the catalyst for my own healing, the gift of being a healer and developing a sense of connectedness with my clients as fellow pilgrims in life who share a spiritual journey. I believe that St. Benedict, too, understood his own humanity and mental struggle in his Rule, which he calls this “little rule for beginners.”  He had a deep reverence for the weaknesses in his monks, honoring their fallibility, and understanding that spiritual progress lies in constantly making the effort to see Christ in each person.


Sister Trish Dick, OSB

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