Margaret O’Connor, Emeritus Professor of Nursing, School of Nursing & Midwifery, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia, and Research Consultant at Melbourne City Mission Palliative Care; and Suzanne Peyton, Mindfulness Educator and Palliative Care Nurse at Melbourne City Mission Palliative Care, explain the background to their longer article in the March/April issue of the European Journal of Palliative Care, which explores how mindfulness can support staff working with those who are emotionally distressed.
Suzanne Peyton has worked at Melbourne City Mission Palliative Care in Melbourne Australia, for more than 20 years, in a variety of clinical and leadership roles. She has a background in nursing and has come to mindfulness through personal experience of the benefits of regular meditation. She leads a busy life, with a growing family, and combines part-time study with nursing and running her own business teaching mindfulness.
She finds that mindfulness enables her to pace her work and to take time between activities. The awareness that comes from being mindful enables her to see things more clearly, and be more discerning about what is happening in order to be steady and calm under pressure. This means being grounded in ‘real time’, instead of being pulled into the future or ruminating on past events. She firmly believes that if you teach mindfulness you need to practise it!
As the article in the European Journal of Palliative Care highlights, mindfulness originally developed to address the needs of clinical populations; it is only more recently that there has been a developing trend to apply mindfulness techniques to assist professional staff. Through her own experience, Suzanne came to the realisation that her colleagues also required replenishment and care.
“In working with vulnerable populations, it is important to understand that in sharing a common humanity, we are more similar to patients and carers than we are different. So our own vulnerabilities need to be recognised and supported in order to be more effective in our work.”
Suzanne suggests that daily mindfulness meditation means that the individual is then developing a sustainable habit that will enable them to approach their work more clearly. By training health professionals in new mind habits, the skills then reside in the worker, who cultivates a different way of ‘being’ in relation to the stresses of working with vulnerable people. Like learning to play a musical instrument, the more one practises mindfulness, the easier it gets. Similarly, daily meditation invites a person to become aware of the perceptions in their head, without reacting to the content. This gets easier over time as practice becomes part of everyday life.
A course participant had this to say about the course:
“I got more out of this course than I could ever have expected. I am sceptical by nature but the impact that this has had on my life has led me to thoroughly recommend mindfulness to everyone. The course itself was utterly engaging and I found myself looking forward to the next session days in advance. I will continue to practise mindfulness for a long time after the completion of the course due to the positive effects that I have noticed it to have on my overall health and happiness.”
From Suzanne’s experience of applying mindfulness in a workplace, she says that management support is essential and needs to be championed by one or more staff. Participation needs to be voluntary and offered among a suite of other supports, which may align with the values of organisations which employ staff that work in the helping professions. In relation to health professionals starting their careers, Suzanne notes the contemporary emphasis placed on teaching reflective practice, as well as skills for developing resilience, such as mindfulness training. She hopes then that new health professionals will be more aware of the issues of burnout and the importance of self care, to sustain themselves in their work.
To find out more…
Read more about mindfulness, including a video clip, on Suzanne’s website.
Read the full article in the European Journal of Palliative Care
This post relates to a longer article, ‘Mindfulness for resilience – a strategy for staff who work with those who are emotionally distressed’ by Margaret O’Connor and Suzanne Peyton, published in the March/April 2015 issue of the European Journal of Palliative Care (vol. 22.2). If you have a web-based subscription to the journal you’ll be able to download this issue, plus all articles in the journal archive. You can also browse the archive and download articles by taking a 10-minute or 30-minute subscription. Members of the EAPC receive discounted subscription rates to the journal – click here to subscribe online.