Emotional Intelligence and the Hospice Chaplain

Dr. Saul Ebema

Many years ago when I first started my work in hospice care, the first few months were hard for me. I enjoyed my visits with the patients and their families but I struggled a lot emotionally on dealing with death, dying and the concept of “leaving work at work.”

When I arrived home after work, I would think about the patients I had visited that day and the challenges they were going through. Soon, I began to suffer from compassion fatigue.


I loved my job so much and I realized that for me to be successful in my work, I needed to balance my emotions and that’s why today I want to address the issue of emotional intelligence in Hospice care work.

Daniel Gutierrez and Patrick R. Mullen in their book “Emotional Intelligence and the Counselor” state that due to the intimate and emotional nature of counseling, counselors are often highly susceptible to counselor burnout.

Many articles have been written on how important it is for counselors to find strategies that mitigate stressful scenarios and prevent burnout.

Emotional intelligence is a preventative factor. It is defined as the ability to perceive and express emotions. It enables you as the hospice care worker to understand your own emotions and the patient’s emotions and then apply this understanding to the therapeutic process.

Hospice care providers who understand or are sensitive to their emotions and the level to which their emotions affect them and the patients they provide care for will be more effective counselors.

Daniel Goleman in his 1995 publication “Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ” described emotional intelligence as having five parts:

  1. Self-awareness: Recognizing one’s moods and emotions and their effect on others.
  2. Self-regulation: Using emotional knowledge to prevent moods or emotions from causing impulsive behavior.
  3. Internal motivation: Taking action or making decisions as a result of an inner drive (rather than for immediate rewards such as monetary gain). This drive can be based on optimism, curiosity, ambition, or personal ideals.
  4. Empathy: Understanding the emotions of others and using this knowledge to respond to people based on their emotional state.
  5. Social skills: Using one’s emotional intelligence to establish strong relationships and facilitate interactions with peers.

What can you as a hospice care worker do to enhance your emotional intelligence?

  1. Understand your emotions- your feelings as they happen. Be in touch with your feelings. A chaplain needs to assess his/her feelings.
  2. Understand Emotional Meanings.
  3. Develop empathy- your ability to understand other people’s emotions will help you help them better
  4. Use Emotions to Facilitate Thinking.
  5. Learn how to embrace your emotions and use it well to the benefit of the counseling process. When you are sensitive to the patient’s needs and manage your emotions well, you are bound to be effective.
  6.  Embrace your feelings and the feelings of others

According to our Hospice Chaplaincy survey, we’ve found that chaplains with higher ratings of Emotional Intelligence achieved better counseling outcome results and lower drop-out rates from the profession compared with Hospice chaplains with lower ratings of Emotional Intelligence. These Findings offer preliminary support for the relevance of developing a stronger emotional intelligence.

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