By Daniel B. Kaplan, PhD, MSW, Barbara J. Berkman, DSW, PhD
(This part of the article deals with importance of being careful when we are providing spiritual support to the elderly and how we should get the best results of our endeavor.)
Many clergy members provide counseling services to the elderly at home and in the hospital, often free of charge. Many elderly patients prefer such counseling to that from a mental health care practitioner because they are more satisfied with the results and because they believe such counseling does not have the stigma that mental health care does. However, many clergy members in the community do not have extensive training in mental health counseling and may not recognize when elderly patients need professional mental health care. In contrast, many hospital clergy have extensive training in the mental, social, and spiritual needs of the elderly. Thus, including hospital clergy as part of the health care team can be helpful. They can often bridge the gap between hospital care and care in the community by communicating with clergy in the community. For example, when a patient is discharged from the hospital, the hospital clergy may call the patient's clergy, so that support teams in the patient's religious community can be mobilized to help during the patient's convalescence (eg, by providing housekeeping services, meals, or transportation, by visiting the patient or caregiver).