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Jonathon Zarb: Here for you


April 20, 2020 - Hospital Family Story, Stories

Spiritual Health Therapist

When Jonathon Zarb decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Pastoral Studies and a Certificate in Psychotherapy at the University of Toronto, he did so with the intention of opening a private practice in psychotherapy one day. But, after his first placement at a Toronto hospital, he quickly changed his plans. “I thought, wow what an amazing place to connect with people,” he says. Since then, he’s never looked back.

Today, you’ll find Jonathon doing what he does best as a member of William Osler Health System’s (Osler) Spiritual Health Therapy Team – connecting with patients and staff – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. And he has never felt more fulfilled. “Offering therapy through a private or corporate practice is a privileged service – you have to have money or insurance to get treatment,” he says. “But when you are working at a hospital, you are offering your services to anyone in need, and you are working with them in their most vulnerable times.”

Before the pandemic emerged, Jonathon was appointed to the Palliative Care Oncology Unit where he provided emotional and spiritual support to patients and their family members. He was also on call at other departments and led a Wellness Wednesday Program that included mindfulness activities, such as adult colouring and crafts, with staff and a one-hour drop-in session for patients. The onset of COVID-19 meant a change in Osler’s visitor policy. Jonathon took on many new roles, including comforting patients in the absence of family members and, most recently, stepping in for spiritual leaders to provide care and council during a patient’s last moments. “Now, as Spiritual Therapists, we are one of the only options,” he says.

With the onset of COVID-19, Jonathon and his colleagues have become part of morning staff huddles and rounds to check on staff well being. “We are also offering meditation and yoga during Wellness Hours and one-on-one counselling for staff,” he says. “If staff or patients need help, we are here for you.”

Jonathon understands the stress and anxiety many frontline health care workers currently face. He compares the advice he provides to the air masks that fall from the plane during emergencies. “They always ask you to put your mask on first,” he says. “To care for others, you need to care for yourself first.” Exercising, craft making, doing what you enjoy are all examples Jonathon lists as self care for frontline staff. “And sometimes self care can take the form of relaxing and doing ‘nothing at all.’”

For Jonathon, making these connections has made his work more meaningful. “These are extraordinary times,” he says. “People are really opening up and reaching out more than they have before. On days off, I feel like I’m missing out. I want to be on the frontlines and make a difference.”

Now more than ever, your hospital needs your help. Vital life-saving equipment is needed to ensure that our hospitals can keep up with demand.