Case study

Humanist chaplain — Lindsay Van Dijk

After gaining both an undergraduate and Masters degree in Humanistic Pastoral Care, Lindsay became one of the youngest senior chaplains in the NHS. She is currently undertaking a PhD with chaplaincy as her field of research

How did you get your job?

I got my job due to my experience in healthcare, management and pastoral care.

I studied for my degrees in humanist pastoral care at the University of Humanistic Studies in the Netherlands. If you would like to be accredited as a humanist pastoral carer in the UK, you can become a member of Humanists UK, and apply for a training weekend with them.

How relevant is your degree to your job?

It was very specific in the sense that it was humanist/non-religious pastoral care, which is rapidly emerging within the UK.

Humanist/non-religious pastoral care has been established in the Netherlands since the 1950s.

What are your main work activities?

I manage a team of chaplains (any faith, belief or worldview) to effectively provide for the spiritual needs of patients, staff and family members. I also visit patients, staff and family members on a regular basis to help support them in times of need, or if they just need somebody to talk to. I plan meetings and organise specific events, such as Christmas, multi-faith rooms and Humanist day.

Additionally, I provide spiritual safeguarding.

What do you enjoy about your job?

You never know what stories you will hear from the people you encounter. You hear a snapshot of somebody's life when they open up to you. It is a very humbling experience. Getting to know people in more depth, you have to suspend any presumptions and hear their story.

I especially like seeing people more than once - when we have long-term patients.

What are the challenges?

As it is within healthcare, people need support outside of the regular nine to five work hours. We must be able to provide spiritual and pastoral care to somebody who urgently requires it 24/7.

Also, you can't always prepare for conversations. It is also important to need to know when to refer to other services, like psychologists or social workers. I work with a team on call, so it's a rota system.

What are your career ambitions?

I began providing spiritual and pastoral care to patients and I am now leading a spiritual and pastoral care team.

I aim to grow into a role where I can further contribute to the spiritual and pastoral needs of all (religious or non-religious), including the wider community. I also hope to follow a celebrant course to lead funerals or weddings.

Any advice for someone who wants to get into this job?

  • Get experience within healthcare - when applying for a job this is one of the most important aspects that employers look at. Perhaps complete a placement or internship, or volunteer at a local hospital or hospice to get acquainted with the spiritual and pastoral care team.
  • Train yourself to 'accredit' status - in order to call yourself a humanist pastoral carer, you would need to get fully trained by Humanists UK. In order to enrol on their training, you first need to become a member of Humanists UK.
  • Gain some counselling skills - if you're considering following a postgraduate course, choose a pastoral care/counselling or psychotherapy course in order to understand what makes a person 'tick'.

Find out more

  • Learn more about the role of a chaplain.