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Hospital Chaplain Is Also A Licensed Therapist

The Frederick News-Post

FREDERICK, Md. (AP) -- For 30 years, Kay Myers has been there for others in their toughest moments. She has counseled sick people through life-changing choices, such as continuing hospital treatment or moving to hospice care. She has helped family members learn to talk to each other about losing a loved one. She has listened when people just want to vent about their struggles with long-term, sometimes terminal illnesses.

For the last two years, the Frederick Memorial Hospital chaplain's focus has been teaching others how to do the same thing.

When the Rev. Dr. Robert Steinke stepped down as chaplain in summer 2010, Myers moved to Frederick from Salisbury to take the job.

"I was widowed, and after having that experience, having some time with it, I was ready to move on," she said. "It was time to start thinking, 'How do I make this transition?"'

In a way, losing her husband made her more prepared to teach others about her work, she said. She hit the ground running with that goal, and within 100 days she had started the Clinical Pastoral Education program.

Accredited by the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy Inc., the program is meant to help ministers, seminarians and others develop counseling skills that apply in hospitals, hospice centers and retirement homes.

"People really don't understand the kind of training that comes with this," she said.

Direct experience, not a textbook, is the most important tool, she said, and the job isn't necessarily talking to people about God.

"I talk to them about their lives. People want to talk about their lives and what they mean to them."

The program, she said, "is all about teaching high-end listening skills."

Myers did not always aim to be a hospital chaplain; when she was about to graduate from seminary, she heard of a residency that was open.

"I thought I'd learn more about how to provide good care," she said. "I did a year residency and never left. This is where I find work that is well worth the investment."

Myers is an ordained Presbyterian minister with training in pastoral care. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified chaplain. She holds a master's degree in family studies and a doctorate in educational psychology.

The investment for her students is nothing to scoff at, either. To be considered for a staff chaplain position, most students must have about 1,600 hours of training.

Three residents and an intern now work under her.

One resident, Julie Heifetz, said the program came along at just the right time.

After retiring in 2006 from a career that included founding the Institute for Humanizing Healthcare, the Philadelphia native took a few years off to spend time with her grandchildren and get settled in Frederick.

"Through all of that, I missed the aspects of my career where I could really do what I thought was meaningful work," she said.

That included one-on-one therapeutic intervention with patients.

She found out about the program through volunteering at the hospital and joined the first group of students.

She is now a full-time resident, working from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on call one weekend per month and one night per week.

According to Myers, she and her students are paged at every cardiac or respiratory arrest in the hospital. Their services can also be requested.

"It is the best educational program I've been in and I have an advanced degree, all of that," Heifetz said.

"This is not a light, casually-led program. It's demanding."

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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