Adventures in Caring Foundation
Teaching the art and practice of compassion in the service of healing.
(Yes, compassion can be taught—as a skill that promotes health and well-being. It’s something we’ve been doing for thirty years.)
- PROFESSIONALS on the front lines of health care gain tools to guard against burnout, build resilience, and sustain compassion.
- STUDENTS who will become our future doctors, nurses and allied health professionals learn the art of treating patients with compassion.
- ELDERS who are facing the end of life alone gain a friend who has the heart, skills and time to reduce distress, relieve social isolation, and restore well-being.
A remarkable program.
I highly recommend it.David Chernof, MD, FACP / UCLA School of Medicine
If you are experiencing stress, you are not alone. Stress in the workplace is common, but in “trauma informed” environments the problem is far more dangerous. Those on the front lines of health care or emergency services, and anyone who witnesses human suffering on a regular basis, encounters the additional stressors of vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. This first-hand exposure to human suffering multiplies the problem. Our program Oxygen for Caregivers does more than address this issue, it gives you the tools, skills, and momentum to shield yourself from the stress, build resilience, and improve your well-being. It also serves as a profound gift that leaders can give to protect their teams.
In our latest program Oxygen for Caregivers: Guarding Against Burnout, Sustaining Compassion we help you and your team restore such connections. They are one of the three pillars of resilience we build together in this program. You can learn more about it here…
When a conversation gets stuck, skilled facilitators will use a “third thing” to unstick it. So it’s not just you and me facing off with opposite viewpoints, there’s a third thing to talk about instead. You can use a poem, a story, a video, a photograph—something that’s related to the topic but doesn’t take sides. A well-chosen third thing will create new perspectives from which to look at the issue and allow the conversation to deepen into more meaningful territory.
The video-based programs we produce function as third things that help teams address hard-to-talk-about topics. Our new production, Oxygen for Caregivers: Guarding Against Burnout, Sustaining Compassion, stimulates a constructive conversation on the topic of burnout, compassion fatigue, and self-care. You can see a preview of it here…
Choose actions that reduce the threat-level. There are five primal threats that cause illness in primates. They are described by Robert Sapolksy in his book, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. These threats are the essential ingredients of any horror movie: no control over circumstances; cannot predict what will happen next; facing it alone; no escape; and no hope of it getting better. If you can reduce any one of these factors, especially the one that is affecting your people most, you will reduce their stress considerably and they will breathe easier, thanks to you.
Our program, Oxygen for Caregivers, is designed to be such a gift to your team.
You can read more about the five threat factors and their antidotes, here…
For undergraduate students who are pursuing careers in the health professions. This is a one-year service-learning exploration of the human element in health care. In-depth training, weekly visits with the sick and injured, regular reflection, and year-round coaching develop the advanced listening skills, emotional maturity, and compassion so vital to healing. Such competencies in the art of connecting with those in pain, reduce distress, relieve social isolation, and restore well-being to hundreds of frail elderly patients in local hospital, skilled nursing, and assisted living units.
Student Service Learning Internships
There is a point in human experience when all tools and tactics fail. It’s understandable that health care professionals who dedicate their lives to helping others find it difficult to accept this limit. However, it is at this inevitable time when the only thing that makes sense anymore is compassion. This is the pivotal moment when authentic compassion changes someone’s life.
The human element is often missing in modern medicine, to the detriment of both patients and caregivers. This personal, subjective, meaningful side of health care is the essential balance to the impersonal, objective, measurable side of health care. Both are essential. But in today’s health care, the subjective side of being sick – the emotions, relationships, and the meaning it has in our life – is increasingly eclipsed. As a result, patients can often feel that they are at the wrong end of a science experiment.
Technological, economic, regulatory, litigious, and demographic trends are pushing compassion to the fringes of medicine, and limit it to a mere buzzword. Unless we give people the tools and encouragement they need to take a stand for a more humane way of delivering health care, it is likely to descend into an assembly-line approach that treats people like so many units of consumption.
However, by treating people with dignity and compassion, and becoming partners in the cause of healing, we can overcome the impersonal interactions that demean the human spirit and inhibit healing – and hospitals and health care centers can then truly become places of healing.
- Are interested in entering the health care professions.
- Care about making a difference in the lives of those who are seriously ill or injured.
- Want to learn about the human element in medicine by putting your compassion into action.
- Have the courage to step outside your own comfort zone in order to interact with those who are suffering and to be transformed by the process.
TO APPLY: fill in the application form here: APPLICATION
We use a make-believe character to get at what is most real in life. This is the Raggedy paradox—we use simplicity and humility to gain access to a profound, lasting compassion that restores well-being. So it’s not for the faint of heart or for those who take themselves too seriously.
In order to participate you will have to take time out of your demanding school and work schedules to show up every week in the humblest of garbs in the loneliest of places to bring hope, joy and comfort into the lives of the sick, injured and dying. You will evoke greater lucidity in Alzheimer’s patients, reduce agitation in Parkinson’s patients, and reverse failure to thrive in those who are socially isolated.
After six months of service-learning you will begin teaching others and your skills will deepen further. After one or more years you will likely graduate and go on to medical or graduate school. Our student interns are accepted at higher than usual rates due to their experience, skills, and emotional maturity. Participants in this program have become doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers, and physicians’ assistants—the backbone of our health care system, and they are now becoming the teachers and leaders of it. For thirty years Adventures in Caring (AiC) has been transforming health care this way—one student at a time.
Researchers now call this relationship-centered medicine. It consists of interventions that increase the strength of the social bond, the human connection, between caregiver and care receiver. We are proud that the interactions of AiC volunteers are now known to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, reduce inflammation, strengthen the immune system, energize the vagus nerve to the heart, turn on the genes that predispose us to health, and make people feel better by releasing endorphins and oxytocin.
If we had invented a pill that does all of these things it would be hailed as a major breakthrough. But no chemical compound can produce such results, only a compassionate interaction between two human beings can do this. At Adventures in Caring we have discovered the secret to making that kind of interaction happen, consistently.
We hope that you join with us to dispense this amazing medicine of compassion to the sick, injured and dying in our community.
- 20-hour training session (Friday evening, all day Saturday & Sunday) covers everything you need to know in order to participate.
- Volunteering once a week, for two to three hours, for one school year, in local skilled nursing, assisted living, and hospital units.
- Reflection: a journal written after each visit records what you are learning from your experience.
Raggedy Ann & Andy are “safe characters.” They are not associated with violence. They don’t prod, poke, or deliver bad news. They are always friendly and huggable. It is safe to speak to them about anything at all. They will listen carefully, respectfully, with heart, without ever being judgmental or talking down to you. There is a simplicity, innocence, and humility about them—to balance the all too harsh, brash, complexity of a modern health care environment. In other words, Raggedy Ann & Andy are someone you can talk to about whatever is on your mind or in your heart.
Such a safe, welcoming character embodies the qualities that are necessary to open up a meaningful conversation and allow it to find wherever it most needs to go.
The costume breaks the ice and brings a smile—instantly announcing that this is a non-medical conversation. It creates solidarity, because hospital patients can relate to someone who is also dressed in something that is humbling.
A life-size rag doll appearing at your door creates a momentary pause from what was expected—interrupting trains of anxious thought and depressed moods—and making room for the unexpected. The same symbolism is often used in fairy tales, with a person at the doorstep dressed in rags asking a question, and so begins the adventure. With such an imaginative start to the conversation, the places it can go are endless.
Such conversations are both meaningful and memorable. They create a profound sense of connectedness that is crucial to reducing distress and restoring well-being. This is the alchemy of compassion.
All AiC volunteer interns learn their advanced listening skills by visiting the sick and injured in a Raggedy Ann or Raggedy Andy uniform. It is a transformative experience, akin to the use of the kachinas in Hopi healing ceremonies. As with all such rituals, a sacrifice of one’s ego is necessary, and dressing symbolically “in rags” as Raggedy creates a humility that opens of the heart and allows compassion to flow. After these wholehearted listening skills are substantially developed, some volunteer interns are allowed to visit specific hospital units without the Raggedy uniform.
At the heart of the AiC methodology for teaching compassion are four core principles. We observed these principles at work in doctors, nurses, and allied health professionals, as well as volunteers and chaplains—who had that special knack of connecting with the people in their care and drawing out the best in them. Somehow, they were able to give people who were suffering greatly the experience of compassion. Here is a link to a brief outline of these four principles: Four Principles of Compassion
Compassion is the wow factor in health care. Yet, how to teach compassion has remained a mystery to most organizations. Adventures in Caring has solved this problem by:
- Making compassion visible: with unscripted examples captured live on video.
- Discovering four core competencies that give patients the experience of compassion.
- Creating a training methodology that everyone can use to improve their ability to communicate and sustain compassion—even in difficult circumstances.
Our programs have proven successful for thirty years.
Tools to Cultivate Compassion
Treating people with compassion is a teachable skill, but you can’t teach it by lecture, sermon, or by simply telling people what they ought to do. AiC has a seven-step compassion cultivation process that is built into all of our programs. It begins with making compassion visible. This is the first step to making compassion teachable because everyone sees and understands a good example. Then they need to talk about it, and the art of facilitating this group dialogue is the second step.
At some point in your interaction there will always be a choice point, a moment when you can choose to escalate or run away from the tension. This is the instinctive fight or flight response when we feel threatened. There is however, a third option, the choice to engage with the other person and find out more about them. Then we regard the situation as a challenge rather than a threat. This one move reduces our own stress, gives us more information about the other person’s needs and goals, and helps us think more clearly about how to proceed.
The AiC program: Compassion in Action: Being Effective in Emotionally Difficult Conversations builds this capacity to engage effectively when the tension rises.
Gifted caregivers do something more than give assistance and information—they bring the healing presence of compassion to those who are suffering. You can cultivate this capacity for compassion in your group with two DVD-based programs that inspire, inform, and lead to greater well-being for caregiver and care-receiver alike. These programs have been used in more than 5,000 faith and volunteer-based organizations.
For Volunteers & Family Cargivers
There are four elements of a conversation that cause compassion to flow, so that the person who is ill experiences that you care. It is this experience of compassion that is so healing. The first element to put in place is your undivided attention.
Become interested in what is important to them. The trick is getting your attention off yourself and on to the person who is ill. Look into them, not merely at them, seeking the good and listening for clues that reveal what is important—to them. Follow that thread. It’s not about you, your words, the impression you want to make, or what you want to accomplish. Make it all about the person you are visiting.
We cover the four elements in our book, What Can I Say? A Guide to Visiting Friends and Family Who Are Ill. To download the first chapter which summarizes them…
AiC has developed several videos and articles – on DVD and online – for inspiring compassion. Inspiration often comes from seeing and hearing others of like mind and heart share stories and insights to the challenging work of caregiving. There are DVD-based programs, articles and references to great work along with videos designed to give soul-nurturing breaks on this website. Feel free to join our blogs & conversation, link up with others who have forged paths through today’s complicated care-environments.
The art and practice of compassion is a lifelong journey of discovery, not a static destination—that is why our organization is called Adventures in Caring. AiC offers support, information, links, videos, and newsletters for professionals, student pre-professionals, as well as for volunteers and family caregivers—in other words, people who are givers, helpers, and creators of solutions in our world. We welcome your contributions to the conversation by becoming a member of our “Tribe” to pass along your wisdom, share your discoveries, and tell your stories, through this interactive blog-site. We grow stronger together.
Support for Caregivers
The ABC’s of resilience are: 1) a keen self-Awareness so that you notice your current state of mind, 2) a healthy Balance between care of others and care of yourself and 3) staying in touch with your healing Connections, the lifelines to the things restore you.
If you only have a few moments to spare, perhaps a poem, inspirational article, music, or art can offer respite. We have original video-clips and music of a peaceful nature that you may find soothing in the middle of the day. Watch them here:
Possibly not, but many other dedicated, caring people are caught up in similar situations where they are at risk of burning out. The most insidious thing about burnout is that it is isolating. So we invite you to become a member of the Adventures in Caring tribe, where you can find and connect with those who are walking the path ahead of you and your fellow travelers. The sense of connectedness to others who understand you is a key antidote to burnout.
For silence on this page click the music button.