Presentation given at Healing Therapy Retreat
in Pagosa Springs, CO on November 1, 2012
I participated in a conference on the Science
of Compassion in July, 2012 in Telluride, Colorado.
The conference was jointly sponsored by the
Telluride Institute and Stanford University’s
CCARE (Center for Compassion and Altruism Research
and Education.) CCARE was developed by Dr. Jim
Doty, a neurosurgeon at Stanford, and the Dalai
Lama and Dr. Thupten Jingpa, the Dalai Lama’s
chief translator. During the course of four
days, 40 international researchers presented
their findings to 400 participants in 15 minute
segments. It was quite a time of taking notes,
talking on breaks, and thinking! For the talk
at the Healing Therapy Retreat, I emphasized
those areas of research that would be most helpful
to health care professionals experiencing “compassion
fatigue. “ After the talk, Suzanne Bolton
asked me to share the notes in the form of an
article, so here it is.
In a keynote address, Thupten Jingpa, PhD stated
that the purpose of meditation is to generate
the motivation for compassion. When one meditates
enough, compassion becomes a habit and, after
an even longer time, it becomes a way of life.
I believe that the process of learning Healng
Therapy and giving it to others actually generates
compassion in our lives way beyond the duration
of the Healing Therapy Session and may even
lead to a greater sense of wellness.
Kristen Neff, PhD, University of Texas, has
been studying self-compassion for the last decade.
She defines self-compassion as “treating
oneself with kindness, recognizing that life
is imperfect and noticing your pain and be with
it, without exaggerating it.” It seems
to me that Caregiver burn-out is created through
lack of self compassion. I couldn’t help
but wonder if healthcare professionals would
enjoy their professions more and be more compassionate
if they were taught self-compassion in their
training programs, and if not then, somewhere
along the way in seminars and noon conferences.
Mindfulness Training in Veterans with PTSD
One study by Dr. Leah Weiss and Dr. Jim Hollenbeck
working with veterans with PTSD at the Veterans
Hospital in Palo Alto showed that after six-weeks
of mindfulness training, the symptoms of PTSD
were decreased, and they felt much more hopeful
about being able to return to their families.
Compassion Training and Stress Reduction
In a study in Atlanta with inner city youth
living in environments of chronic stress, Dr.
Chuck Raison reported that the level of C -
reactive protein (a measure of inflammation)
was decreased after six weeks of cognitive-based
compassion training. Since C-reactive protein
is a marker for inflammation, heart disease,
cancer and other chronic illnesses, a decrease
in C-reactive protein levels goes a long way
toward maintaining wellness. Raison also noted
that young people in the study tended to increase
the parasympathetic tone when compared to the
sympathetic tone in their nervous system.
Good Stress vs. Bad Stress
Chronic stress is bad stress. It means living
in a constant state of sympathetic nervous system
stimulation. The person under chronic stress
has increased cortisol, increased blood pressure
and heart rate, a hyper vigilant state where
they are always expecting trouble, increased
sweating, and contracted blood vessels. They
also have increased C-reactive protein levels
which are a marker for possible chronic diseases
of all sorts including cancer and heart disease.
In contrast, good stress is short bursts of
turning on a sympathetic nervous system response
such as in a bike race or acting in a play.
It keeps the nervous system responsive and pliable
so that it is prepared to respond when response
is required. Meditation and mindfulness training
and healing therapy sessions increase the parasympathetic
(vagal) tone leading to a switch in the sympathetic/parasympathetic
axis toward the parasympathetic side—breathing
slows, muscles relax, heart rate decreases.
A balance between the sympathetic/parasympathetic
states is ideal.
Barbara Frederickson, PhD, University of North
Carolina discovered that when people experience
positive emotions, they are more open to possibilities.
The preconditions for positive emotions include
safety and connection. Having a Positivity resonance
increases vagal tone. Self compassion brings
safety, awareness of humanity, and therefore
the possibility of compassion toward others.
In that same vein, nonviolent communication
helps to decrease chronic stress.
Dan Martin, PhD, from CA State University of
East Bay, has spent his life studying compassion
at work. He found that mentoring (even by e-mail)
had a positive, long lasting impact on a person’s
career, social and financial standing. I feel
that the mentoring that is a part of the Healing
Therapy course and follow-up sessions helps
graduates feel not only more confident in sessions,
but also helps them grow in their awareness
of energies and the outcome of their Healing
therapy sessions. Healing Therapy has two other
aspects that increase compassion. Perceived
similarity has been shown to increase compassion.
As each person learns the same techniques and
experiences that we are all similar in our response
to pain and stress, it increases compassion.
Other studies showed that synchronous movements
increase the likelihood of compassionate acts,
even among strangers. I believe that is one
reason that people who do tai chi together tend
to be more compassionate toward one another.
It is also the reason that compassion increases
in a group of people learning Healing Therapy
techniques in a class.
This information about the science of compassion
can be practically applied to our lives as caregivers
to help us be more compassionate toward ourselves
and others, thereby reducing “compassion
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