Meaningful Conversations. Reciprocity in Power Dynamics between Humanist Chaplains and Patients in Dutch Hospitals.

Karin de Lange, Gaby Jacobs

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There is a reluctance within humanist chaplaincy to critically reflect on power dynamics during conversations. This reluctance stems from the idea that every person is capable of finding meaning in equal contacts and that chaplains do not have aims or direct the conversation. A study was conducted to gain insight into power dynamics in conversations between chaplains and patients, and how these power dynamics influence the co-creation of meaning. Power in a conversation is dynamic because of changing positions of power between conversation partners and depends on their initiative and response in a conversation. Based on feminist relational theories, power is conceptualized as both dominating and transformative, and within transformative power a distinction is made between agential and receptive forms of power. A secondary analysis was performed on qualitative interview data of six humanist chaplains. Dominating strategies taken from the Initiative-Response theory and verbal responses from chaplaincy literature have been used to map the power dynamics between chaplain and client. The results showed that both chaplain and patient use dominating strategies, and that transformative power is necessary to foster the co-creation of meaning. This transformative power can take both agential forms, such as direct leading by questions and focusing, and receptive forms, e.g., listening and affirming. The receptive forms were still the dominant strategies used by chaplains, but the results made clear that agential forms have taken ground within humanist chaplaincy, although some strategies may need to be developed further in training, such as focusing and self-disclosure by the chaplain.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109
Number of pages14
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • power dynamics; humanist chaplaincy; co-creation

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