Applying Process work to chaplain work

I want to share an experience I had some time ago that has stayed with me and will, I anticipate, stay with me.  This interaction shows my gratitude to the work of Amy and Arny Mandell who have developed process work. For your further learning pleasure, i include two links:  and

Here is the experience

The patient was in her mid nineties, very slight, nicely dressed in a night gown, hair well combed, and apparently asleep in her bed.  Her room was dimly lit and the chaplain whom I was shadowing and I sat at a table a few feet away from her.  My chaplain colleague stood at the bed said “hi” and returned to the table.  Fortunately, she got a phone call and I took the opportunity to approach the patient.

I stood next to her bed, leaned on the railing and noticed that her eye lids fluttered a bit. I simply began to put words to her movements.  “O, your eyes are fluttering, moving very quickly” , “O, now you are opening your eyes” . “O, now your right eye is about half way open” , O, now your fingers on your right hand are moving up and down”  O, now your eyes are closing, yes, both eyes closed”.  Wow, now you are opening your right eye”  “Wow, you are turning your head”.  O, yes, now your eyes are closed”  “Wow, now you are breathing deeply, very deeply and slowly 1…. 2…. another breath”  “Now you are opening your mouth”, “O, now you are closing your mouth” ====

You see how this is going.  I put into words the small movements she was making. This process lasted for maybe 10 minutes with pauses of various lengths in between each movement.  The pauses were just long enough for me to feel self conscious and inadequate but I carried on.

After about 10 minutes, she had her head turned towards me, eyes opened, and was giving me the most radiant smile I had seen in a long time.  Of course, I smiled back and was moved almost to tears.

I asked her permission to hold her hand and asked her to say yes by wiggling her fingers and no by keeping her fingers still.  She wiggled her fingers very definitely.  We fell in love with each other then and there looking into each others faces and eyes and holding hands for all of 20 seconds or so until she could no longer keep her eyes opened and returned to wherever she had been, I suppose, but with her head still facing me and with a Mona Lisa like smile on her lips.

This experience has stayed with me for a long time and has been the first of many times I have used process methods to engage with an apparently distant patient.  I often go back to this first experience, however, because the patient lived for about a year thereafter and our visits were often like this.  Sometimes, she was just too sleepy to engage however.  What a blessing I always sensed when I remembered  that I was given a way to relate with people that were usually ignored or babied or treated as deaf (just talk loudly and with lots of inflection in your voice).  What a blessing to connect with them!


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