Blog: Emotional understanding of a deeper level of communication.

“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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Blog: Why Empathy Can Be Good For You

You know when you see something that brings you sharply into focus of that moment. That affects you and you know you will remember that moment probably for all time. I had one of those the other day.

I was sat on the sofa and escaping life for a while, watching a film. One of my indulgences. I have never been one for reality or celebrity. I like a story I can engage with. However, not only do I indulge in films, I have learnt that they are a valuable tool for developing myself, flexing my ’empathy muscle’ and getting closer to being mindful of the moment. I can absorb myself.

Research has long shown that stories help us to develop empathy , seeing others worlds, in ways that you don’t always get access to in real life. Isn’t that why we laugh, cry, turn our face away and feel scared depending on the film we are watching.

The other day I watched the Railway Man. Colin Firth played the main character which is always a bonus! It is based on a true story of Eric Lomax who during World War 2 was captured as a British Officer by the Japanese, where he was forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway north of the Malay Peninsula.

the-railway-man-2014-2As a prisoner of war, Lomax is tortured by the Kempetai for building a radio receiver from spare parts. The torture depicted includes beatings, rape, and waterboarding. Apparently, he had fallen under suspicion of being a spy, for supposedly using the British news broadcast receiver as a transmitter of military intelligence. In fact, however, his only intention had been to use the device as a morale booster for himself and his fellow prisoner-slaves.

The psychological trauma that this torture causes Lomax is still a prevalent part of his every day existence years later . He is filled with hate and fantasies of revenge. With the help of his best friend Finlay, Lomax decides to find and confront one of his captors who had escaped prosecution as a war criminal. Lomax returns to the scene of his torture after he has tracked down Japanese secret police officer Takashi Nagase, “in an attempt to let go of a lifetime of bitterness and hate”.

This story showed how Lomax puts Nagase through a little of what he suffered at his hands, but through the process, and not through real choice, the two men had to truly see the others world. It was painful and caused huge conflict emotionally. Cutting much of the story out for the purpose of this blog, Lomax was unable, in the end, to perform the revenge he had fantasised about for so long – killing Nagase. He left, and went back to England.

However, things would never be the same again, both men had changed from having to empathise with the other. This caused it’s own tortures. None of them wanted to feel anything but hate for the other. But it was too late, they now saw the human being, not the prisoner and torturer. More interesting, Nagase had to face himself adn what he had done. Communication through letters started and Lomax, knew he had to go back to see him.

railway manThe outstanding part of this story for me, the bit that actually made me sit up from my reclined position and say wow, was when they met again and Nagase broke down, genuinely, authentically, heartbreakingly, broke down, desperately needing Lomax and his forgiveness.  Lomax is depicted at this point – and this is the bit the touched me deeply – attempting to put his arm around Negase, the man that had caused more damage to him than most can comprehend. His arm hovered as he struggle with himself to show empathy and indeed compassion. The conflict must have been huge indeed. But he did it. He put his arm around Negase, demonstrating that he understood. Negase cried in his arms.

lomAX_2662584cAt the end of the film, it showed real photos of the two men who became friends and worked together to  address many of the wrong doings of that time in history. As for me, I felt humbled and had another reminder of the power of empathy. It did indeed help each man see the others world, but in turn, their own personal torment was lifted a little. Empathising with the other, had a positive effect on their own well-being.

Thankfully, not many of us go through such extreme experiences, but in developing our empathy, we not only help to create support for others, but, can in fact, support ourselves. Empathy can be good for us too.