“As I've observed the healthcare system over the years, it's pretty stressful to begin with,” said Rev. Deadra Bachorik Ashton, and with COVID “everything ratcheted up.”
Rev. Ashton is chaplain at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire and a spiritual director.
Across our country’s healthcare system existing staff shortages got worse as weary and stressed providers resigned or retired; some got sick – or needed to care for ill family members.
“The juggling of work and personal life has become even more intense,” Rev. Ashton said.
Even adapting to new practices designed to make care easier brought challenges.
“[Telemedicine] offers opportunities for providing service in a variety of ways, but that meant a whole new skill set that had to be achieved in a pretty short period of time,” she said. “And healthcare systems are very structured and to change the systems to accommodate different ways of doing things, again, is very stressful.”
Where can healthcare professionals go to get care?
Where can they be deeply heard in a safe and confidential space?
Where can they take a reinforcing ‘deep breath’ alongside others who understand their experiences?
The New England Conference’s Rolling Ridge Retreat and Conference Center hopes one of those places will be “Listening Space in Healthcare.”
The new program will offer an online, small-group experience where healthcare professionals can pause, be deeply heard, and find support as a way of encouraging their own wellbeing.
A pilot session is planned for June 6, 2022, in anticipation of gathering on the first Monday of each month going forward.
Rev. Ashton will be one of the facilitators along with Rolling Ridge Program Director John Kiemele, PhD, who is a spiritual director and wellbeing educator.
Similar to Rolling Ridge’s “Soul Care” groups, it is hoped that this Listening Space will provide healthcare workers with needed sacred
space and time, but in a way that’s different from the prayer groups or study groups typically experienced in most church settings.
“Very rarely do we find that people have a place without any of those kind of ‘performing expectations’ – I’ve got to pray or I’ve got to study …,” Dr. Kiemele said. “As Parker Palmer says, ‘Our souls long to be witnessed.’ Where do we have a place to be witnessed just as we are?”
Dr. Kiemele said people will be able to Zoom in on their lunch break to gather with others in the healthcare field.
“Often, we speak more honestly with those who understand our language ... who get it,” he said.
We follow a pretty simple structure, but we’ll repeat the structure every time we gather so people know what to expect, Dr. Kiemele said. Participants are invited (never required) to share comments or questions. The sessions are not recorded, and everything is confidential.
The session starts with an image and phrase as well as a statement of intentions. After at time of stillness, participants are invited to check in. The group has a reflective experience together – focused on an open-ended question or a reading followed by discussion.
I mean, you know general questions like that that are very open-ended. And that allow people the opportunity to respond and generally when somebody starts responding, then very often people will pick up and off the conversation will flow. And if it doesn't, I mean, certainly for John and me to feed back a little bit of what we're hearing helps to keep the conversation flowing as well. But also knowing that there may be some space for silence needed.
Dr. Kiemele said other groups like this one have people who attend regularly and those who drop in only occasionally – and either way is fine.
“My experience with people who are coming together around a common area of stress or a stress in their lives is they tend to bond pretty quickly,” Rev. Ashton said.
There’s no x-ray or blood test to determine if this is helping healthcare providers, so what constitutes success?
“What I'm hoping is that healthcare workers might see this as an opportunity to just connect with others who are feeling some of the same things that they are, and to support each other,” Rev. Ashton said.
It can also be helpful, she said, “to just hear how other people cope. Very often in these kinds of groups … people learn some new skills and some new strategies just by listening to how other people have done things and what's worked, or what has not worked, for them.”
“There’s a camaraderie that emerges from shared stories,” Dr. Kiemele said.
Rev. Ashton agreed: [Learning] their unique experiences are not necessarily as unique as they think … I think it could be helpful to know that there is some commonality in the wider community [of healthcare workers], she said.
“We just really feel like listening opens up so much life,” said Dr. Kiemele, “and in our culture now that seems to be a rare practice.”
The first session of “Listening Space in Healthcare" will be noon to 1 pm on Monday, June 6, 2022. Participation is free, but registration is required. Click the link to learn more and sign up.