• Kate Binnie

Post-graduate training in psycho-spiritual care starts 2021 at Oxford Brookes

The Oxford Centre for Spirituality and Wellbeing are delighted to announce the launch of their post-graduate certificate in psycho-spiritual care in partnership with Oxford Brookes University, with the first intake starting in May 2021. The brainchild of the Centre’s director Dr Guy Harrison, the course will be taught by clinicians and academics in the field of psycho-spiritual care from Oxford Brookes and Oxford Health NHS Trust and is open to all health, mental health, social and allied health professionals from any faith or none.

Dr Guy Harrison says: I am excited to be able to bring this multi-disciplinary course together. Combining my doctoral research into the relationship between spiritual and pastoral care and counselling and psychotherapy in health practice [Guy’s book Psycho-Spiritual Care in Health Care Practice was published by Jessica Kingsley in 2017] with feedback from study days and workshops held by the Oxford Centre for Spirituality over the last few years, the PG cert in psycho-spiritual care will offer a unique opportunity for participants to learn both with and from peers across the health care system”.

Background

In 2018/9 a survey of views on spiritual care was sent out from OCSW to healthcare workers across the Thames Valley region to understand respondents’ views on education, training and support needs around psycho-spiritual care. The results of this survey are currently in peer review for a publication entitled “We all have spiritual care needs”.

Healthcare workers who responded to the survey felt that spiritual care was not just a core part of attending to the health of patients and service users, but an essential part of their own wellbeing as “whole persons”, supporting other whole persons through the healthcare system. The survey also revealed that the majority of healthcare professionals had received no training in spiritual care, and felt this was an important but missing part of their education and ongoing professional development.

This finding is consistent with the wider literature which shows that, although policy guidance may mention spiritual assessment and care as part of a person-centred approach to care, practitioners lack the confidence, pathways, and structural support to deliver spiritual care beyond what was described in our survey as “tokenistic” and “cursory”. A large part of this appears to be due to confusion about what exactly spiritual care is, and who should deliver it, beyond the role of specific spiritual care providers such as chaplains. Practitioners appear to feel anxious about crossing sensitive religious or professional boundaries, and lack supervision and guidance on “how to” respond to what has been described by international consensus as: “…a dynamic and intrinsic aspect of humanity through which persons seek ultimate meaning, purpose, and transcendence, and experience relationships to self, family, others, community, society, nature, and the significant or sacred. Spirituality is expressed through beliefs, values, traditions, and practices.”

We are clear, therefore, that there is a clear and expressed need for training in psycho-spiritual care.

A clear and present need: Covid-19 pandemic

‘The impact of the Covid 19 pandemic on individuals and on wider community and society has shown us (if any further proof were needed) just how important the spiritual and the psychosocial dimensions of healthcare are to so many people. Extraordinarily the subject is all too rarely addressed head-on in professional education. I am delighted that the introduction of this course – the first of its kind in the UK for health and social care professionals – will begin to address that gap.’

Stuart Bell CBE (former NHS Chief Exec)


The current pandemic - now in its second wave across the UK - has highlighted the urgency of addressing healthcare workers’ mental and spiritual health. Death, dying and bereavement, issues of staffing and inequality as well as family pressures, have put frontline staff under extreme and sustained stress from both direct traumatic experience and secondary pressures compounded by exhaustion. Although there is widespread acknowledgement from the NHS and other national organisations about the need for support and recovery strategies for staff, interventions offered currently focus on the ‘psycho-social’ fallout from the pandemic, making no mention of ‘psycho-spiritual’ effects, which we define as ‘the moral, ethical, existential and meaning-based impact’ of the pandemic on staff. The integration of supportive measures for staff (not to mention patients) is also variable with, we suspect, sectors of the workforce excluded from psychological support although whether this is due to lack of access, lack of representation and/or lack of resources is unknown.

At OCSW we have responded locally to these needs with a series of live and recorded online Wellbeing Webinars, and with regular “Rest and Renew” retreat days for staff, which have been very successful. We have particularly consulted with staff from BAME backgrounds and sought to explicitly include and address staff from a wide cultural and religious backgrounds. We have a consultation plan for a wider project in process with NHS Improvement, and have set up a Wellbeing and Spirituality Research Interest Group (WellSpRIG) to collaborate and share ideas with academics across the country interested in the field (do get in touch if you’d like to join this group!)


Our Post-graduate certificate in Psycho-spiritual care is (as far as we know) the only dedicated programme in the UK which aims to support practitioners from across the health, mental health and social care system to deliver high quality, socially and culturally informed psycho-spiritual care. With teaching from academics and practitioners from fields across the lifespan representing the importance of psycho-spiritual wellbeing from cradle to grave, this course aims to bridge the gap between care disciplines to present a vision of wellbeing, enriched by a synthesis of psychological and spiritual approaches.

The programme will support the development of a holistic and inclusive cross-disciplinary approach to health and social care whereby practitioners are confident to work collaboratively to understand the complex, significant relationships between their patients' and clients’ medical, therapeutic and spiritual requirements. The course will also encourage the development of practitioners’ own personal psycho-spiritual awareness and wellbeing, which is absolutely vital for the delivery of whole-person care.

Taught over 3 semesters (currently planned to be in-person with on-line/remote study to follow) and based at Oxford Brookes University, the first intake will begin in May 2021, with deadlines for application at the beginning of February. Participants will gain a level 7 qualification with 60 credits at Masters level.

Please do get in touch if you have any further questions, or to receive a brochure with more details about the course.

Email: mastersmodules@oxfordhealth.nhs.uk, Phone: 01865 902777 or for an informal conversation the course leader Dr Guy Harrison can be contacted on guy.harrison@oxfordhealth.nhs.uk

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