Kindness as a Therapeutic Intervention

by | Aug 7, 2016 | Health

I just read a parting thought from the July/August 2016 issue of Holistic Nursing Practice. We’ve all heard of random acts of kindness, how about kindness as a therapeutic intervention? Fascinating to me that kindness and compassion are something we must teach health care providers to use. However, as I read the article, I was reminded of how hard nurses, doctors, interns, and residents work. 

“Fatigue and irritability are often associated with intense work environments – these emotions are counterproductive to consistently providing doses of kindness to those who need it most. Remedy: compassionate care.

What is compassionate care? A way of caring for yourself, colleagues, patients and others that is kind and nurturing. Self-compassion is simply compassion directed inward and consists of three elements: kindness, a sense of common humanity and mindfulness. These components combine and mutually interact to create a self-compassionate frame of mind. Self-compassion is relevant when considering personal inadequacies, mistakes, and failures, as well as when confronting painful life situations that are outside our control. Self-kindness entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. 

How to achieve? Through meditation or simple breathing techniques, taking time for a cup of tea or sip of water, taking time to listen to a colleague or patient. One of the greatest gifts you can give another is the silence of just listening. Patients, particularly the elderly, are painfully lonely. Loneliness in health relations is associated with a lack of being heard and recognized as a unique individual. When you listen with attention, you are honoring the person before you. Listening in this way is what I call “enlightened listening.”

What does it mean to listen with all of your senses, every fiber of your being, every molecule that ensures seeing the person before you? It means giving over to Greater Hands that guide you. You surrender your ego and listen from deep within. Enlightened listening is a knowing that your humanity is touching another’s humanity. People in pain, people with discomfort and disease, fear, anxiety and anticipation of the worst, simply want to be heard. Comforted. Attended to. Grounded in grace and someone else’s presence. Your presence is a gift, which is reflected back to you as another gift.

Presence: the state of being present.

Enlightened listening takes practice and is at the core of compassionate care. When I first started working on the oncology unit floor at Glendale Adventist Medical Center, bringing my creative “ministry” in room to patients, I was mentored by a wonderful chaplain, Chaplain Mary. As we approached a patient’s room, after attending to the basics, washing hands and putting on mask and gown if needed, she told me to put my agenda and all hope for a specific outcome aside, and give myself over to God. Since I do believe in God, a higher power and intelligence, giving over to Greater Hands made sense to me.

If you do not believe in a God or a higher power, imagine putting your expectations in your pocket. Breathe and let go of agenda and outcome. In my Create to Heal class, someone may not want to participate or share, even though they are there, sitting quietly. Showing up is often the hardest thing for a patient or family member to do. But once there, soaking up the grace and presence of others is very healing – and in that moment, may be all they need.