Transcending differences to study the transcendent: An exploratory study of researchers' and chaplains' reflections on interdisciplinary spiritual care research collaboration

Richard A. Powell, Linda Emanuel*, George Handzo, John Lantos, Laura B. Dunn, Ellen L. Idler, Diane J. Wilkie, Kevin Massey, William T. Summerfelt, Marilyn Jd Barnes, Tammie E. Quest, Allison Kestenbaum, Karen Steinhauser, George Fitchett, Angelika Zollfrank, Annette K. Olsen, Tracy A. Balboni, Dane Sommer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Despite recognition of the centrality of professional board-certified chaplains (BCC) in palliative care, the discipline has little research to guide its practices. To help address this limitation, HealthCare Chaplaincy Network funded six proposals in which BCCs worked collaboratively with established researchers. Recognizing the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in the development of a new field, this paper reports on an exploratory study of project members' reflections over time on the benefits and challenges of conducting inter-disciplinary spiritual care research. Methods: Data collection occurred in two stages. Stage 1 entailed two independent, self-reflective focus groups, organized by professional discipline, mid-way through the site projects. Stage 2 entailed end-of-project site reports and a conference questionnaire. Results: Eighteen professionals participated in the group discussions. Stage 1: researchers perceived chaplains as eager workers passionately committed to their patients and to research, and identified challenges faced by chaplains in learning to conduct research. Chaplains perceived researchers as passionate about their work, were concerned research might uncover negative findings for their profession, and sensed they used a dissimilar paradigm from their research colleagues regarding the 'ways of relating' to knowledge and understanding. Stage 2: researchers and chaplains noted important changes they ascribed to the interdisciplinary collaboration that were classified into six domains of cultural and philosophical understanding: respect; learning; discovery; creativity; fruitful partnerships; and learning needs. Conclusions: Chaplains and researchers initially expressed divergent perspectives on the research collaborations. During the projects' lifespans, these differences were acknowledged and addressed. Mutual appreciation for each discipline's strengths and contributions to inter-professional dialogue emerged.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number12
JournalBMC Palliative Care
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 18 2015


  • Biomedical
  • Care
  • Collaboration
  • Interdisciplinary
  • Spiritual

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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