Towards the end of last year, I met with a number of health and education professionals in an informal process to discuss how they manage their own wellbeing. We discussed what gets in the way of them maintaining their own self-care, and finding external help. Part one of this five-part blog series shares the key blockages to seeking support as experienced by these helping professionals.
The Helping Professionals Interview Series (Part 5): Finding Hope in Healthcare and Education
A story of hope.
Yesterday my daughter told me about a stray dog that has been hanging outside her house; a little white and tan dog, lying on the red dirt, looking sad and sick. She had been observing the dog for a number of days, feeling worried for it, but was unsure to whom it belonged.
Being a caring soul who loves animals, she approached the dog to see if it was hurt. As she leaned in, her stomach turned as she saw that its ear was filled and bulging with ticks.
I could feel her wincing through the phone, as she shared this with me.
What to do to help this poor pooch?
She decided to contact the local parks and wildlife to see if there was anything that could be done. To her surprise, they were more than willing to help. She was so happy to be able to help this dog (she’s decided his name is 'Squid'), but even more delighted to know that there was someone on the other end of the phone who cared.
The moral of the story (besides a pooch with healthier, more hopeful prospects)?
Hope requires awareness, connection with presence, and action.
Hope is a verb.
In recent interviews with teachers, nurses and allied health professionals I explored the challenges faced by those in helping roles. This informal interview process that generated ‘The Helping Professionals Interview Series’ helped to elucidate the following:
- First, what stops helping professionals seeking support (You can read the detailed response to this question in Part 1 here or see the infographic in Part 2 here).
- Second, by challenging the misnomer of ‘self care’ and the failure of systems, organisations, policies and protocols to truly support those who work to teach, heal, save and support our society.
- Third, we saw that educators and health professionals generally struggle to admit they need help, and that this has been fuelled by a shared experience of receiving strong messages of putting others first throughout their childhood, during their professional training, and in the workplace.
With such an alarming cluster of challenges it is easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed.
It is little wonder that we are on the brink of losing hope as evidenced by widespread exhaustion and burnout.
What do we do about this?
When there’s a sense of severed belonging, of disconnection, it undermines hope. It cuts us off from our full being-ness. It cuts us off from that field of possibility. Reconnecting with presence is a process that gives us hope.
There are many ways to think about hope.
In her book 'Dare to Lead', Brené Brown summarises hope in terms of the research of hope theorist, C.R. Snyder, as being a “cognitive emotional process that has three parts". These include:
- "Goal ... I know where I want to go"
- "Pathway ... I know I can get there because I’m persistent and I will keep trying in the face of setbacks and disappointment”
- "Agency ... I know I can do this” (pp. 93).
However, when we are overwhelmed it can be tricky to access such a cognitive process. This is where a more philosophical, and trauma-informed approach can be helpful.
Tara Brach invites us to consider a 'mature' or 'holy' hope, described as “an attitude of the soul that’s open and receptive to how reality is unfolding through our unique human forms; being fully available to this life”.
Being fully available to possibility means connection, presence and an ability to sit with all that these bring - the good, the bad and the ugly.
Presence with pain is a gateway to hope; being with what’s real.
Presence and connection - the good, the bad and the ugly.
As explored in a previous blog, we spend a good deal of time disconnecting and separating from our experience in order to avoid pain. The more we do this, the more we struggle to feel safe, and enter into a place of fear and mistrust: otherwise known as survival mode (the ultimate hope eroder).
If presence and connection are a gateway to hope, we need to be able to sit with ourselves both in awe and pain.
How do we do this?
Being present with what is difficult.
Notice what is happening in your body; your physical sensations; if you are numb or raging; if you are heavy or tense:
- Bring your kind attention to these sensations; perhaps place a hand there, and allow your focus to be on the physical sensation you notice.
- If it's hard to connect with your body in any way, you can try either placing one hand on your heart and the other on your belly. Imagine you are holding your 3 year old self with an attitude of kindness.
Notice what you are feeling:
- What is that feeling? Can you name it and allow yourself to feel it or express it through movement, exercise, talking, drawing, crying, shouting?
Notice your thoughts and the stories you are telling yourself:
- Bring awareness to these thoughts, notice you are having them and that they are part of you but not all of you.
When you've had some time with yourself in these ways, ask yourself:
- What do I need?
- How can I meet this need now, or later?
- Who can I ask for support? (If you don't feel you can ask anyone, is there someone that you can imagine asking?)
Take action to meet this need to care for yourself and your experience.
- Then notice what sits with you.
- Is there a sense of openness to yourself and the situation?
What is now possible?
Being present with goodness
Allow yourself to bring your awareness to the goodness around you - the small moments of joy, awe and beauty that are around every day even in the most difficult times:
- clouds drifting by
- a bird fluttering past
- warm sun on your skin
- the crunch of a piece of toast
- a smile
- a gesture of kindness
- feelings of happiness and joy
- laughing with a friend
- the comforting sensation as you hold a cup of tea
As before, notice
- what is happening in your body; your physical sensations
- what you are feeling
- your thoughts and the stories you are telling yourself
Allow yourself to drink in the physical sensations of beauty, awe and appreciation.
Notice what these moments of light feel like so that you can return to them when you're in the dark.
Consider what is possible - even in the smallest way.
Perhaps now you are able to consider the more cognitive emotional process of hope:
- Do you have a goal? Where do you want to go?
- What is the pathway towards this goal?
- You can do this - consider your needs and who might support you with this sentiment. Gather these people around you and go for it.
If you'd like support with this process, please join me for a virtual cuppa to discuss your needs.
In this third piece of the five-part 'Helping Professionals Interview Series' , we explore the misnomer of ‘self care’ and its suggestion that individuals only hold responsibility for our wellbeing. In fact, the challenges are caused by modern Western society, its systems with ever-shifting policies and protocols, large workloads and insufficient support within our working environments. If you're exhausted and overwhelmed, it's not you: it's a set up.
From the first three parts of 'The Helping Professionals Interview Series' we've heard that teachers and health professionals struggle to reach out for support and care for themselves. Why is this? In this penultimate blog in the series, we hear through the voices of participants that the answer is tied up in societal messages that begin in childhood, and continue on through professional training and within workplace cultures.
Join a small group of peers to learn, explore, connect, express and reflect through shared discussion, music and creative arts experiences.
Tailored support to meet your needs and build inner resources for positive change.
Through November – December in late 2021, I met with seventeen helping professionals from the following areas: nursing, teaching, music therapy, pharmacy, counselling, child and family therapy, social work and service management to discuss how they seek help or look after themselves when they are struggling. This infographic summarises key findings.
Header image: Mitch Hodge