22 Aug

Wardipedia – Empathy

Compassion for self and others

The quality and skill of empathy is threaded through every one of the 77 Ideas, including this specific bunch. Ward staff carry out very non-random acts of kindness through every shift, as well as all those additional and spontaneous acts of generosity which punctuate patients’ time in hospital. Many of the 11 Empathy Ideas are connected with a concept rarely spoken of outside therapeutic communities but which plays an enormous role in patients’ experiences and recovery. The therapeutic milieu, milieu being the French for environment or setting. Basically the extent to which all aspects of a ward are oriented to patients’ recovery.

The eating disorder service at Ellern Mede provide a very helpful definition of the therapeutic milieu: “A therapeutic milieu is a phrase that describes a psychological treatment setting in which it is the setting itself that is therapeutic, not just its various components.  In other words, the way the staff interact with patients at all times of the day and night, and on every day of the week, the way the timetable is arranged, the way the programme is structured, the fabric of the building and its spaces,  are all aimed at providing an intensive positive learning experience which helps the patient recover.”

There probably isn’t enough (yet!) in Wikipedia about staff having empathy for themselves. This is all very Zen and important so we’re going to give it a big plug here. In fact, there’s a totally brilliant book for improving our ability to be kind to ourselves, particularly important when work involves so much giving of oneself. F*** It – the ultimate spiritual way. An amazingly accessible, failure-proof fast-tracking to greater tranquility, self-acceptance and self-empathy.

Here’s a nice story from a blog about the imaginative power of empathy:

“ A story in the news this week, about an Emperor Penguin, a youth who made a wrong turn while chasing dinner, and ended up in New Zealand, rather than in Antarctica with his mates. He is only the second penguin to come to Zealand on record. That this story made it into international news shows the virtue of empathy that is an important capacity of imagination. It is not difficult, even if only glimpsing the poignant photograph of the penguin alone on a vast beach, to identify with the scene as a figure of something felt, an isolation, the alienation of the modern human condition.”


The 11 Empathy ideas:

67. Ward culture of empathy. Tea and empathy

The quality and skill that is most cherished by patients and very difficult to maintain when under intense and sustained pressure.

68. Talking therapies. Beyond CBT

Medication helps but lasting emotional stability is only possible through the appropriate psychotherapy.

69. Therapeutic interior design.  Easy on the eye, warm in the heart

There are some stunningly beautiful wards around and small, stylish flourishes jazz up all wards.

70. Comfort objects. Touchy feely

The transitional objects of Donald Winnicott, the fluffy animals of patients with BPD, the dolls cradled by elderly patients with dementia.

71. Housekeeping heroes. Making hospital hospitable.

Bigging it up for domestic staff who truly get what ‘working alongside’ patients means.

72. Complementary therapies. Hands on healing

Soothing, pleasurable and (for some patients) therapeutic experiences. We’re slightly evangelical about Indian Head Massage.

73. Addiction support. Rehab.

Helping people with who have a dual diagnosis, through optimism, flexibility, involving family, timing, peer support and choice.

74. Samaritans train staff. Listening at its finest

Be trained by the world leaders in listening!

75. Reflective practice groups. Releasing time to share

Did you enjoy the gag? Anyway, space for reflective practice is essential for each member of staff working directly with patients.

76. Good night. Lightening the nights

Providing high quality training and support to staff working nights, the most complex shift at the most vulnerable time.

77. Happy. Still smiling after all these shifts

Ward staff do an exceptionally stressful, under-resourced job with remarkable empathy and impact. You deserve to be happy!