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How can outcome research support chaplaincy?

13 January 2021

More and more often, people are asking for scientific proof of the effects of chaplaincy. How do you do that properly? PhD student Annelieke Damen explored suitable methods to conduct (outcome) research on chaplaincy. She looked at both the Dutch and the American context. She defends her thesis Outcome research into Chaplaincy. Advancing 21st century healthcare chaplaincy in the Netherlands and the United States on 18 January 2022 at the University of Humanistic Studies.

Chaplaincy faces some major challenges in our time. For one thing, chaplains have to deal with a rapidly changing religious landscape. Fewer and fewer people subscribe to Christian denominations, the diversity of ideologies is increasing and the so-called 'unattached' group is growing. The religious influence in the public sphere is also declining. This puts pressure on the original (Christian) religious legitimisation of chaplaincy. Furthermore, it is expected from chaplaincy that the profession bases its practice on research results (evidence-based), and that it demonstrates the added value of chaplaincy by means of scientific research. 

As a result of both challenges, the call for outcome research is growing. At the same time some chaplains are reluctant to this development for fear that through research, and especially outcome research, the central values of the profession will be lost from sight. To further explore the relationship between outcome research and chaplaincy, Annelieke Damen focuses in her dissertation on the question: How can outcome research support chaplaincy in the 21st century? She makes use of theoretical, quantitative and qualitative research methods, looking at the Netherlands and the United States. 


In the first study Damen examines the research priorities of Dutch and American chaplains. Both groups name research into the effects of chaplaincy as priority number one. 

She then investigates how this outcome research can be shaped appropriately, taking into account the resistance to effect research. In her research she points out that a false opposition is created between process-oriented or goal-oriented chaplaincy. In addition to being process-oriented, spiritual carers are also goal-oriented because they strive in their practice to bring about changes for the better in their clients. These changes for the better represent the central values, or goals, on which chaplains (often implicitly) focus. Effects can be understood in terms of these goals: chaplaincy practices have a good outcome if they contribute to the goals of chaplaincy. Outcome research on chaplaincy should connect to these intrinsic goals. 

In a follow-up study, Damen maps the goals of chaplaincy in the literature. She distinguishes six goals: philosophical vitality and plausibility, coping with life events, deepening of spirituality, relational bonding, wellbeing and exercising the sanctuary. 

In five further studies Damen discusses the building blocks of effect research. She maps out the spiritual needs of Dutch and American patients in order to be able to examine in later research whether the conversation with the chaplain has an effect on these needs. Furthermore, she validates a possible measuring instrument. The dissertation ends with studies into the contributions of chaplaincy in health care.

More information about the PhD defence (in Dutch).

More and more often, people are asking for scientific proof of the effects of chaplaincy. PhD student Annelieke Damen explored suitable methods to conduct (effect) research on chaplaincy.