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Healing patients through human connection: Rev. Brian Shields recognizes traumas new and old

As Healing Services Coordinator at the Cleveland Clinic, Shields reaches his patients.

CLEVELAND — Reverend Brian Shields says his work as a healing services coordinator at the Cleveland Clinic is all about human connection. In his unique position, Reverend Shields uses everything that he has to reach his patients.

"I like the opportunity that I have to bring my whole self to my job," he said. "So I bring myself as a Black American male who wears locs, who has a master's degree, who's a husband and a father. I bring all that."

Reverend Shields says this support requires a level of hyper-awareness. In his role, he provides support for patients, their family members, and other healthcare workers.

"The support we provide is emotional support, relaxation and spiritual support, and this support requires a level of hyper-awareness," Shields explained.

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By working with people in crisis, Reverend Shields understands that even the smallest signals can affect the level of care.

"When I come into the room I like to get at the eye level, so that there's a share of power. Being a large human being, I carry a chair. It becomes a conversational posture [and] I end up relating with people in a way that they might not have been related with while they've been in the hospital," he said.

And this task of relating sometimes extends from knowing current hurts, to understanding the effects of generational ones. As is the case with Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.

"Post-traumatic slave syndrome is a condition that African Americans have and it's connected to the trauma that was experienced in slavery," Shields explained. "Sometimes that can get triggered by a current event. A black American patient might be misperceived as aggressive when one is expressing oneself, trying to get one's point across because maybe she, he or they haven't felt listened to their whole life, and being black in America that's exacerbated."

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Reverend Shield’s work hinges on human connection; and in these days where assumptions reign supreme, reverend Shields fights to give each patient their authentic voice.

"It's easy to be at a distance and conjure up some ideas of who a person is," he said. "Yet it's a whole other thing to get to know who they are."

Editor's note: the video in the player below is from a story published on January 22, 2021.

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