The word “chaplain” is of Christian origin, but today it refers to a clergy person of any faith who provides spiritual care in institutional settings. For me, a freelance rabbi/chaplain, that means providing spiritual counseling, religious programming, talks and officiation to people in hospitals, assisted-living facilities, jails, at home on hospice and out in the community.
As often as I meet someone who has no idea what chaplaincy is, I also run into the opposite problem — people who are sure they know, but what they know is wrong. They think I am visiting them in hopes of converting them to a religion, or of convincing them to be more religious.
Professional chaplains are forbidden to proselytize, and unlike most everyone else on the medical care team, we do not have an agenda for curing or “fixing” the patient. We only want to ease suffering by helping people find peace of mind. And “find” is the correct word here. Almost everyone has the capacity to relax themselves, and thereby reduce pain and agitation. Chaplains help patients brainstorm to figure out what will turn that key.
Rabbi Avivah W. Erlick, “Your Body is a Temple”, Jewish Journal (12-18 February 2016), 45.