“Identity is a spiritual care issue. Identity is an essential part of our spirituality because if we don’t know who we are, it is difficult to construct meaning in our lives.”
For many people, spirituality remains a core facet of human experience. Whether that’s manifested in religious beliefs, or in more intangible feelings of greater powers or nature’s unknowable realities, spirituality plays a big role in our lives.
In the past, mental health and mental illness were often linked to spirituality. Earlier societies may have lacked the knowledge or tools to fully understand the complexities of the human mind, so our understanding and treatment of mental illness would often fall upon spiritual practitioners to find meaning in our experience.
Today, we are fortunate to have the Spiritual Care Service – a team of experienced Registered Psychotherapists at CAMH whose training, experiences and knowledge helps patients find meaning, understand their identity and improve mental health through the lens of spirituality.
Just like the patients, staff and families who seek help for spiritual care, CAMH’s three-member Spiritual Care Services team comes from different walks of life, and they use every step in their own journeys to help them guide our patients on their own paths to recovery.
For Eli Hood, the path to becoming a Spiritual Care provider started with the desire to share knowledge.
“I was actually a teacher before I came to CAMH,” says Eli. “During my career in education, I came to believe that helping people heal from trauma is the single most profound service I can offer that helps people make lasting change in their lives, in the lives of their loved ones and in the world. So I went back to school mid-career to get my Masters of Theology in Clinical Psychotherapy and Spiritual Care.”
As a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, Eli is also able to help patients navigate the complexities of their identities and discover aspects of themselves. For many patients, understanding, accepting and loving who they are is a crucial part of their recovery.
“Patients who are queer, or however they self-identify, come in not knowing what to expect and then see me,” says Eli. “It may take them a moment to undo all the layers of classic stereotypes that many queer, trans or gender diverse people often experience engaging with corporate religion. So, I think that’s a real asset, especially for the populations we serve, because it’s an additional layer of stigma—having mental health problems and being part of a marginalized group.”
For Shawn Lucas, Spiritual Care Manager, becoming involved in spiritual care felt like a natural progression in his career as a former ordained minister and a registered psychotherapist. In his practice, Shawn uses his experience to help patients find meaning and purpose while dealing with negative beliefs or past trauma that may be detrimental to their recovery.
“We might have a greater sense of empathy and definitely a preference for understanding,” adds Shawn. “When you’ve experienced some kind of discrimination, it heightens your empathetic antenna to be more sympathetic. You can more readily identify or be supportive of people who have those challenges in their lives.”
This year, the Spiritual Care team added a new member in Bruce Scavuzzo, a recent graduate in the Master of Pastoral Studies.
“I was drawn to this field because at its heart it is about building meaningful relationships with people,” says Bruce. “In the work of spiritual care we are called to be present with concerns that are not easily treated with immediacy (grief, isolation, purpose, meaning, identity). We sit with patients in the darkness of their existential concerns and encourage development of emotional self-awareness during the most uncertain of times. Through facilitating safe, authentic therapeutic relationships we offer a space for rediscovery, growth and change.”
“We have created a lovely and supportive environment. We are such a small team and we work incredibly hard to cover a vast amount of bed spaces and geographic locations,” adds Eli.
At the core of this work is a team that draws upon their unique identities to deliver clinical and spiritual care to patients seeking guidance, purpose and hope. A team that continues to redefine the meaning of spirituality and challenge people’s perception and understanding to become synonymous with inclusion, hope and health.