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Since "we are human beings taking care of human beings," perceiving others as "just like me" affects caregiver empathy and shapes patient perceptions and overall experience.
When I attended the "Search Inside Yourself" workshop led by Google's Chade Meng-Tan in September, I learned many "science-based attention training and mindfulness tools for increasing emotional intelligence and sustaining peak performance."
One of those was a combination of the "just like me" mindfulness practice and a variation of the loving-kindness meditation (LKM) practice, which aims to "explicitly cultivate positive feelings, generating an emotional state that is full of unconditional love, compassion and empathy toward the self and others (Salzberg, 1995)."1 Growing evidence2 demonstrates the positive effects that LKM practice can have on improving the capacity for empathy.
Practiced in a setting with others the meditation experience was intimate for sure.
"Turn your chairs toward each other and look at the portion of the person's face right above their nose and between their eyes," Meng instructed.
"Become aware that there is a person in front of you, a fellow human being, who is just like me."
"Let us now consider a few things."
Then, Meng gently continued, briefly pausing after each "just like me" statement:
"This person has a body and a mind, just like me.
This person has feelings, emotions and thoughts, just like me.
This person has at some point been sad, disappointed, angry, hurt or confused, just like me.
This person has in his or her life, experienced physical and emotional pain and suffering, just like me.
This person wishes to be free from pain and suffering, just like me.
This person wishes to be safe, healthy and loved, just like me.
This person wishes to be happy, just like me."
"Now, let's allow some wishes to arise.
I wish for this person to have the strength, resources, and social support to navigate the difficulties in life.
I wish for this person to be free from pain and suffering.
I wish for this person to be happy because this person is a fellow human being, just like me."
According to Meng, clinical and non-clinical caregivers alike improving their "explicit and implicit"3 capacity to perceive others as just like me, will achieve at least three clear benefits:
Healthcare organizations can consider at least the following ways to support caregiver empathy:
Perceiving patients, their families and fellow caregivers as just like me can improve patient perceptions and therefore their overall experience along with caregiver satisfaction and fulfillment.
"Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity." (Pema Chödrön)
1 Increased gray matter volume in the right angular and posterior parahippocampal gyri in loving-kindness meditators. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. DOI: 10.1093/scan/nss076.
2 See among other studies listed here: Leung, Mei-Kei; Chan, Chetwyn C H; Yin, Jing; Lee, Chack-Fan; So, Kwok-Fai; Lee, Tatia M C (2012). Kang, Y., Gray, J. R., & Dovidio, J. F. (2013, August 19). The Nondiscriminating Heart: Lovingkindness Meditation Training Decreases Implicit Intergroup Bias. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0034150.
3 See Hofmann, S. G., Grossman, P., & Hinton, D. E. (2011). Loving-kindness and compassion meditation: Potential for psychological interventions. Clinical Psychology Review 31 (2011) 1126-1132.
Doug Della Pietra is the director of Customer Services and Volunteers for Rochester General Hospital in New York, where he directs an intentionally-designed patient- and family-centered volunteer program, oversees the front-line valet and guest services teams, and leads the service excellence element of the Patient Experience Initiative while co-chairing the hospital's Patient Experience Team. Follow Doug @DougDellaPietra on Twitter.
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