Rev. Olivia Hamilton Ministers to Children and Families

Through her work at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Program, Rev. Olivia Hamilton helps people make sense of difficult situations through faith. She describes her role of Episcopal Priest and Staff Chaplain and the value it provides the community for our February 2021 Cincinnati At Work issue.

Photograph by Devyn Glista; illustration by Brittany Dexter

Age

32

Title/Occupation

Episcopal Priest and Staff Chaplain, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Program in College Hill

How long have you been in this job and field of work?

I’ve been in chaplaincy for five years and at Children’s for three.

Why did you get into this field of work?

I’ve always had both a deep curiosity about religion and spirituality and a fascination with stories and storytelling. Being a chaplain brings those two together, because I hear people’s stories and then hear how they make sense of their world through religion and spirituality. Also, when I was 20, my grandmother was in a nursing home in Newport, and I got to spend a lot of time with her at the end of life. Death and dying repels a lot of us, but I was drawn to it and to accompanying people through the rich moments in life and death.

Best part of your job?

I really feel honored to work with children who have experienced grief and loss. Unfortunately, a lot of those kids have experienced stigmatized losses like suicide, murder, or overdose. I accompany them through the grief process, with a goal toward learning to live healthy lives in light of their loss.

Worst part?

There can often be a feeling of hopelessness, particularly when I see the same kids cycle through our programs over and over again. The hospital becomes the safe place because their family or community isn’t safe for them. I wish we were more imaginative as a society to support kids and families in their mental health.

What value does this work provide to the community at large?

I’m one of two staff chaplains working in psychiatry at Children’s, which I think is one of the only children’s hospitals in the U.S. to have a role in pediatric psychiatry chaplaincy. We deal specifically with the intersection of mental health and spirituality with kids and families. I’m a translator in my role as a chaplain. We’re trained to be a compassionate presence for people going through difficult situations. When we understand where people are coming from religiously or spiritually, we can translate this to the medical team. If you as the doctor understand those things, you can better align with the family.

What value does it provide you?

In witnessing how resilient the kids I work with are, I’m able to tap into my own resilience. It’s a cool mirroring process: I support them in their coping, but I wind up getting this huge benefit; when I’m struggling, I get a lot of strength from thinking about kids I work with.

How has the pandemic impacted your work?

We had a silent pandemic of young people and mental health issues already going on, that we as a culture don’t have great language to talk about. But then COVID-19 added another level of isolation between young people and their communities. A lot of kids I talk to on a daily basis say, I used to go to church, but now it’s online and I don’t feel as connected. They don’t have as much access to those safe, supportive people in their community, whether it’s pastors, teachers, guidance counselors, or coaches.

Fun fact about your job the public wouldn’t know.

The stereotype of who and what a chaplain is doesn’t fit what I do. Often, when people see us enter a room, they freak out, because they think it’s bad news or that someone is dying. We don’t just help people through death and dying; we also celebrate victories and discharges. The things we get to do are much more diverse than what people think. We actually have a debate among ourselves if it would be better to stop wearing our chaplain badges sometimes.

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