The first compassion circle took place in a hotel in South Tyneside in 2013 – it lasted 2.5 hours and was attended by 12 people including Professors Maxine Craig and Tricia Hart – the next morning Maxine said to me ‘if you can get that down to an hour I think it can scale’
The health care space is psychologically messy. Being human is difficult and when our need for healthcare leads us to a doctor or a hospital we may be feeling particularly vulnerable and anxious.
We are born, we live and we die. Much of healthcare is concerned with the beginning and the end. People who work in healthcare (and social care) are human – I realise that this is stating the obvious but I do feel that sometimes we are somehow meant to leave ourselves at the door.
As a general pattern I wonder if people who choose to care for a living may be more comfortable caring for others than for themselves.
Modern healthcare has an industrial feeling – with fixed hierarchies and tribal politics being human with each other becomes even more tricky – many people are burning out as a result. For far too many, working in healthcare is bad for your health – this is the context for the development of compassion circles.
A compassion circle is a highly structured one hour hosted and facilitated safe space in which participants can re visit values, focus on self-compassion and reflect on inhibitors and enablers of compassion for others.
Compassion Circles follow a script – aiming to give equal air time to all participants and combining thinking rounds with partner work, they give both space to contemplate and opportunity to commit to action:-
• “Name one thing that is going well in work and one thing that is going well at home”
• “Imagine that you are unwell and needing care. What qualities would you look for in the health professional approaching you?”
• “How could you take better care of yourself?”
• “What changes are you interested in making in the way that you care for yourself?”
• What is most in the way of compassion in our service?
• “How can we promote/sustain compassionate care within our service?”
• “What have you appreciated about the contribution of the person you partnered up with in the exercisestoday?”
• “What has been good about our time together today?”
The thinking behind compassion circles is influenced by the work of Nancy Kline (‘Time to Think’) Paul Gilbert (‘The Compassionate Mind’) and Jon Kabat-Zinn (Full Catastrophe Living).
The methods have been tested and refined and see consistently positive responses and impacts as they create a safe space for dialogue about values, care for self and compassion for others.
Borrowing from Paul Gilberts thinking and research the Compassion Circle is a place of nurture and safety which enables participants to be in a soothing state which makes space for them to consider what conditions enable them to be part of a compassionate workplace.
I am grateful to the Aneurin Bevan University Health board in Wales for passion in implementing compassion circles and willingness to share data below:-
What people say about compassion circles:-
• “The team left the round with loads of energy and positivity and this lasted well beyond the day of the meeting.”
• “It was great to hear from the consultants, about their lives and work.”
• “I found hearing the junior staff talking about their values really inspiring. It reminded me why I came into the job in the first place.”
• “I really appreciated having the time out to discuss our team and individual values. We are all busy within our roles and rarely take time out to discuss how we approach our practice and show compassion.”
• “It was really good for our team morale to pay a compliment to each other.”
• “I feel that our team is extremely supportive of each other, which was evident during that session. We are respectful of each other and that’s how we interact with service users and other professionals.”
• “It is beneficial to have allocated sessions like this to discuss our team approach. It made me feel valued as a member of the team.”
• ‘I felt comfortable being in a group of people that believe compassion should run through the veins of everything we do, it was a calm and comforting set up.’
• ‘I liked the group of staff who took part in the circle and appreciated the openness and honesty of each individual. I personally found it reassuring to know that other people felt the same way and shared some of the same experiences that I had.’
• ‘Generally speaking I think we need all to be kinder and understanding to each other in the work place. With the exception of a couple of colleagues I would not normally have had the privilege to spend time with individuals in the group and I was amazed at how comfortable and relaxed I felt with those present in a very short space of time.’
I am committed to helping to build capacity to enable more people access to this safe and powerful practice. I am very grateful to the IHM for the invitation to write about compassion circles.
In my experience an initial facilitated half day where a group can experience and evaluate a compassion circle creates the space to think about implementation challenges and opportunities.
A two day train the facilitators programme is available on request.
Please feel free to be in touch to discuss.
Founder of Compassion Circles