From chaplaincy to spiritual care: identifying the key influences and turning points for endorsement and recognition of an emerging health profession

Ms Cheryl Holmes1,2

1Spiritual Health Association, Melbourne, Australia, 2La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia

National standards in Australia acknowledge the significance of spiritual care in the provision of holistic care, understanding that peoples’ beliefs and values impact their experience and health outcomes. While spiritual care has been provided in Australian hospitals for many decades little attention has been given to changes in the workforce and the implications for quality of care.

This presentation aims to further understanding of the key influences and mechanisms for change that can ensure safe and high-quality spiritual care provision in Australia by a qualified and credentialed workforce.

The study used a qualitative case study design which included interviews and analysis of archived records. Narrative analysis produced an extensive organisational case study from which a timeline of key changes significant to the spiritual care workforce was constructed to inform this presentation.

There have been movements towards a professional spiritual care workforce, but progress has been slow, and inconsistency persists across Australia, both in workforce development and in understanding of spiritual care. Five key influences were identified that provide a basis for future progress: the need for evidence, cooperation amongst stakeholders, investment by government and health service management, and leadership and advocacy from spiritual care peak bodies.

Attention to historical turning points enables understanding of the influences for change. These could be applied to the development of other allied health professions. These can also become opportunities for Government and health management to further progress towards a qualified and credentialed spiritual care workforce able to deliver safe and high-quality spiritual care.


Cheryl has had extensive training and professional experience in healthcare, spiritual care and organisational change and management. She began employment as a speech pathologist before moving into spiritual care positions at State and national levels. She was appointed Chief Executive Officer to Spiritual Health Association in 2002. She completed a Masters in 2014 focused on management & leadership and commenced a PhD in 2016 on spiritual care in Victorian public hospitals. She was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for her spiritual care roles in the health sector on Australia Day 2015.

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