Compassion at the Heart of Well-Being: an Inter-Disciplinary Study of Well-Being in a Healthcare Setting
Helena Nguyen (Psychology, University of Sydney)
Sean O'Connor (Psychology, University of Sydney)
Baljinder Sahdra (Psychology, Australian Catholic University)
Geoffrey Samuel (Social Anthropology & Religious Studies, University of Sydney)
Nickolas Yu (Nursing, University of Sydney)
Felicia Huppert (PI) (Psychology, Australian Catholic University)
Paul Atkins (Psychology, Australian Catholic University)
Joseph Ciarrochi (Psychology, Australian Catholic University)
Greg Fairbrother (Psychology, Australian Catholic University)
Anya Johnson (Organizational Behavior, University of Sydney)
Simon Keller (Philosophy, Victoria University of Wellington)
Research is increasingly demonstrating that compassion and well-being are deeply intertwined. This project utilizes multiple disciplinary perspectives to explore a) the nature of compassion and wellbeing, and the ways they are related; b) best practice for interventions to enhance compassion and wellbeing; and c) the diverse effects these interventions have upon people and their relationships.
Vital elements of our society, including welfare and social services, schools and the justice system, could not function at their best without compassion. Compassion is particularly vital for well-being in the health-care setting where this project is based. Hospitals rely on staff to provide quality care in environments that often involve stress, emotional overload, overwork and tiredness. ‘Compassion fatigue’ is a major issue with a high public profile. How can people working in an environment where they are confronted day after day by human suffering maintain compassion towards those for whom they are expected to care?
Our project is innovative in a number of ways. The insights gained through bringing together expertise from psychology, philosophy, nursing, organizational behavior, anthropology and religious studies will enrich the design, implementation, measurement and interpretation of the interventions we will use to enhance well-being. Randomized controlled trials are widely regarded as the gold standard for demonstrating effectiveness of an intervention; our project will take the RCT to a new level. First, rather than treating participants as mere recipients of an intervention, we regard them as authorities on how they experience and respond to the intervention. Accordingly, we will gather qualitative data reflecting the attitudes, experiences and meanings made by participants. A second way in which the RCT will be enriched is through measuring its impact not only on participants themselves, but on those with whom they interact in the workplace, including other staff and patients. Third, we will go beyond subjective, self-report measures to include objective measures, such as psychophysiological markers of stress and resilience, social network analysis, and ethnographic observations of relationship performance. Finally, our project aims to contribute to the best-practice design of interventions to enhance compassion and wellbeing. We recognize the limitations of a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Increased well-being and compassion can be achieved in different ways, and different people may benefit more from one approach than another. We will therefore compare two widely used, evidence-based interventions that may appeal to participants in different ways. Both interventions involve self-reflection, emotion regulation and the nature of our relationships with others, but one uses meditation techniques derived from religious traditions, particularly Buddhism, while the other uses more explicitly goal-
focused techniques grounded in positive psychology and cognitive therapy.
We believe that this project has the potential to bring a deeper understanding of the nature and experience of well-being and compassion, specifically in a workplace setting. We further believe that the project has the potential to become an exemplary study of how the scientific approach to a high quality intervention study can be greatly enriched through incorporating ideas and method from the humanities.