Conceptualising a practice of collective care in health work.

a group of adults sit in discussion as a young woman with brown skin turns to smile at the camera | collective care | Tempo Therapy and Consulting

18 Oct 2023

Connection, community and collaboration are essential for best outcomes in healthcare work. Drawing inspiration from thought leaders and research that advocates for a collective, compassionate and courageous response to peer support, this blog conceptualises a unique approach to collective care. How can we develop and support each other through creative expression and networks that hold us with a strong back, soft front, wild heart and clear mind for the wellbeing of our clients and our own sustainability in the work?

Categorised in:

Our microculture should support us in two ways: by showering us with encouragement and by holding us accountable.

Laura van Dernoot Lipsky

Developing a practice of collective care for healthcare workers.

We know from previous blogs the important role that collective care plays in:

As recently discussed, ideas of collective care can help us to "conceptualise a different type of peer support, one that offers and invites:

  • A fierce strength in ethics and accountability
  • A gentleness in care and nurturing
  • A wildness in standing up and expressing what is required".

Integrating principles from neuroscience, social justice and creative arts therapies in collective care

Inspired by thinkers and activists such as Brené Brown, Vikki Reynolds, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, Alex Iantaffi and MegJohn Barker, and Emily and Amelia Nagoski, here at Tempo we have a developed our own conceptual framework for collective care integrating and extending the principles outlined below.

1. The need for true belonging

Brené Brown's concept of 'true belonging', 'strong back, soft front, wild heart', originates in Zen Buddhist ideas, articulated here by Roshi Joan Halifax:

All too often our so-called strength comes from fear not love; instead of having a strong back, many of us have a defended front shielding a weak spine. In other words, we walk around brittle and defensive, trying to conceal our lack of confidence. If we strengthen our backs, metaphorically speaking, and develop a spine that's flexible but sturdy, then we can risk having a front that's soft and open, representing choiceless compassion. The place in your body where these two meet - strong back and soft front - is the brave, tender ground in which to root our caring deeply.

Zen Buddhist Roshi Joan Halifax

Brown adds to the 'strong back, soft front', the wild heart: advocating for the courage to be true to your values and for what you believe in, whether or not you are supported by those around you.

This place of courage, grief and belonging to one's self Brown identifies as the place of true belonging.

2. Completing the stress response cycle

We know that the accumulation of stress in our bodies is bad for our health, that the stress response can remain in our system as a chemical stew long after the stressor has been removed, and in order to shift stress, we need to complete the stress response cycle.

For a more detailed review please see here, but the seven ways to complete the stress response cycle include:

  • working with the breath
  • have a big cry
  • connecting with others
  • have a belly laugh
  • move your body
  • have a long hug
  • express your creativity

3. Collective ethics

Bringing a social justice and ethical lens to a practice of collective care is essential for safe, sustainability in the work.

This frame adds to the strong back that is required to:

  • acknowledge the role that moral distress plays in the workplace
  • brace each other in the work
  • hold each other accountable for times of challenge
  • hold clients / patients at the centre
  • hold onto hope.

A collective ethical frame acknowledges the politics of power and privilege in which we work, and strengthens us individually and collectively for the wellbeing of our clients / patients, and for our longevity in the work.

Building a unique approach to collective care practice

Whilst these concepts are likely familiar to many of you in terms of the work of the above thought leaders, here at Tempo we are integrating aspects from each to support our own unique approach to developing a practice of collective care that advocates:

  • Courage
  • Connecting with creativity and expression
  • Compassion
  • Connection to self, others and place

Core values that formulate our basis for collective care are outlined below:

Collective care invites us to shoulder each other up, work in solidarity as a collective project and acknowledge that we are not going to stay with sustainability and be useful across the long haul individually.

Vikki Reynolds

Related Resources

Header image: Unsplash in collaboration with Getty Images