“You can never understand a person until you try and appreciate what they’re going through” states a healthcare student, in The Guardian after his first placement on an acute adult psychiatry. How true this is. This is the essence of using empathy. Understanding what another is going through to connect and communicate on a level that transcends words.
The article that focusses on two students experience of first placements and what it felt like to help patients perfectly demonstrates how all our interactions are emotionally based, both conscious and unconscious. Both students discuss their own fears, preconceived biases, and humility. They reflect in a way that will help them develop their own emotional intelligence and empathic skills, both supporting patients now and in the future, but supporting themselves and their own well-being too.
At a conference I spoke at yesterday at Derby Teaching Hospital, about Compassion in Care and the 6C’s, I was overwhelmed with the engagement and interest in the emotional side of care that I talked of and the necessity for empathy and emotional development. The room was full of highly trained and experienced nurses and healthcare professionals that already had my respect for the job they do. A few I knew but a majority I didn’t, so they of course had no understanding of me and what I was about to talk of and reveal.
It was the conversations though I was privileged to have with these people before and particularly after my presentation (which is emotive to say the least). They were eager to understand more about the psychology and emotional understanding of a deeper level of communication. They could identify on a work and personal level.
Before I spoke, a lady who was a radiographer, stood behind me as we were waiting for a needed cup of coffee and said hello as if she knew me. It turned out that she did. She went on to say that she had been lucky enough to be at the last years conference and seen me speak and was ‘so excited when she saw that I was speaking again as she had been so moved and it was so valuable’. I confess to almost wanting to cry, it caught me unawares, as I am used to people commenting after I speak, but not so much before.
It is fair to say, when I did speak, many were shocked at my story, but no defence mechanisms came into play, indeed, what I witnessed (and do time and time again at training at conferences), is my story gives them permission to believe in their humanity; their own feelings and emotions. To not expect perfection of themselves, because they are human healthcare professionals, not computers (and lets face it computers crash and are far from perfect too). Their faces showed almost relief of not having to expect themselves to conquer fearful feelings and feeling a failure if they are struggling. But neither to ignore them, but to be aware of them. To stay conscious of them. Not to bury them which can unconsciously affect their behaviours, actions and results.To listen to others, to listen to themselves, to believe in what they feel is right. Knowing the possible impact of not doing this, but not feeling like they are expected to never struggle with the processes.
The two students I started this blog about featured in The Guardian article, will be challenged on so many levels. I hope their humanity, their honesty, their empathy stays as strong in 20 years time as today.
As for the staff of Derby Teaching Hospital that I met yesterday, I simply say, thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for caring. I was proud to be part of the day.
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