We are currently living in a day and age where the type of care offer becomes secondary to monetary gain. However, recently there has been a push toward “compassionate” care.
What does offering compassionate care mean?
Is a lack of understanding and consideration already leading ‘compassion’ to be the next hot trend line item in medical care?
Let’s explore the deep meaning of offering compassionate care. I want to highlight the work of a nationwide organization called Carter for Compassion. In the book Compassion: Bridging practice and science where leaders in the fields of neuroscience, contemplative practice, and education offer deep reflection into this are of interest. For further resources visit their website at charterforcompassion.org.
As rates of burnout among medical professionals skyrocket, medical institutions are beginning to realize the importance of secondary staff in order support personnel well-being which impacts their ability to offer compassionate care. How do we train medical professional to develop this skill? Margaret Cullen writes, “Compassion training is about uncovering, revealing, and reconnecting to what is already there” (p. 32). When working with individuals experiencing life threatening illness, inevitable death, or even the common cold we meet people in some of their most vulnerable and intimate times. We experience their fear, anxiety, and emotional distress. If we have not uncovered what these emotional states mean to us we are unable to reveal and reconnect those we work with a state of peace and healing.
To be able to attend to the suffering of another is to enact empathy; as healthcare professionals, we seek to understand and share the feelings of another. However, if we are unable to meet our own fear and anguish with self-empathy how will we be able to hold this space for another? When we start by first holding compassion for our own inner landscape of joy, fear, anger, resentment, bliss, etc. we allow a foundation for healing to be built. With this foundation we are able to open to another’s suffering in a way that provides support and care.
When we are truly able to open to another’s experience of suffering, from a place of compassion, we have reduced feelings of distress. This open and receptive state leads to greater frontal cortical processing and creativity, while stress hormones are reduced (p 159). Instead of turning away from another’s suffering because you feel uncomfortable or triggered by your own fear, you are able to meet their healing needs. This also reduces states that evoke hyper-/hypo- engagement styles of patient care.
Hyper- engagement care is care which is over invested. A caregiver may be exhausting themselves in trying every last effort to save someone from dying when the individual’s death is inevitable. In hypo- engagement care a caregiver my feel removed from providing patient care because they are experiencing feelings of helplessness. They may disregard the patient without offering them care that could reduce the patient’s suffering. When clinicians are aware of their internal landscape these states can be identified in order to return to a state of presence where compassionate care may be enacted.
Mind training and reflective practices can be used to cultivate this level of awareness to maintain and enhance clinician well-being. However, these are daily practices that cannot be experienced in a brief seminar. Desire to maintain one’s health and meet the needs of others is fundamental is lying the framework for the ability to offer compassionate, sustainable care to those you serve.
What practices are you able to incorporate into your daily life that support you in having compassion for yourself and those you interact with? It can be as simple as five slow deep breaths before entering the next patient’s room.
Best wishes as you go on your day, and reach out if you are interested in more information.
Singer T. & Bolz M. (2013). Compassion: Bridging Practice & Science. Munich, Germany: Max Planck Society.