Posted: June 9, 2017
Anita Syens2

Not all providers give direct medical care in a hospital setting; sometimes a provider may be giving care for the spirit of the patient or their family, like spiritual care provider Anita Syens.

Anita has been involved in spiritual care for over 25 years, and has been working at GRH in that capacity for the past six, not including the four years she spent volunteering prior to being brought onboard.

What Anita enjoys most is the ability to “come alongside others,” and to assist them in their religious, spiritual or emotional needs as they experience life-altering illness, grief, loss, or end-of-life care.

For her, it’s important to connect meaningfully with a patient and accompany them on their journey, as well as value and honour their life story that they share with her.

She is also fond of the spiritual care team she works with. “It is a privilege to work with them. I often feel that I have the best “job” in the world.”

How did you come to work in spiritual care?

Shortly after moving to Kitchener in 2005, I started volunteering at GRH in inpatient oncology. With the encouragement of our past and present spiritual care directors, Rich VandenBerg and John Lougheed respectively, I started taking specific spiritual care training in a hospital setting.

My personal mission statement is “to come alongside with…,” and being a spiritual care provider has allowed me to do just that and meet people where they are and to accompany them on their journey, if they so desire.

What do you think is a common misconception about spiritual care?

I think that people may believe it is only for those who consider themselves religious or spiritual. We are there for everyone, including those who don’t identify with a particular faith or spirituality.

It also may be that they think we are going to try to “convert” them into our way of thinking or beliefs, which is not the case.

Do you help only those who are religious, or do you also help those who don’t consider themselves spiritual or religious?

We are available to everyone who would have us “come alongside them.” Not only we are there to meet specific religious needs if that is desired, but we are there for all who need support emotionally, practically or in any other way.

As part of our humanness, we all have pain, fears, suffering, values, beliefs, joys, hopes, desire for meaning and purpose in life, beliefs about the world around us. If allowed, we can help be a “sounding board” to those who are trying to make sense of the illness or emotions they are experiencing.

We allow them to “hear their voice;” essentially give them the opportunity to openly express what they are going through.

Spiritual care really is caring for the spirit of the individual.

What does your average day look like?

I have the privilege of working both at the KW Campus and the Freeport Campus, primarily in the areas of inpatient oncology, palliative care and complex continuing care. Being at both campuses lends well to continuity of care, as sometimes those I meet at KW are transferred to Freeport.

A typical day would be meeting with patients and/or their loved ones, listening as people share their life stories, emotions, new diagnosis or prognosis, the new realities, and the unknown. I also have the privilege of giving support to patients who are dying and their families. I have the honour of meeting people at the worst moment or time of their lives, and seek to provide a measure of care and comfort in the midst of it.

What do you feel is important for the community to know about spiritual care?

That we are there to “be with” anyone who would like or needs support. That we can, with their permission, also connect them to their own faith leaders.

On our team, we also have volunteer on call spiritual care providers that are available to support patients and families 24/7 as well as several interns at both campuses. Apart from being members of the Canadian Association of Spiritual Care (CASC), all of our five staff spiritual care providers are also registered psychotherapists with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (CRPO).

We are also available for the support and care of GRH staff, physicians and volunteers, as they may be impacted by the stress and emotions of the work they do with patients and families.

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