Help Us Teach the Art
and Practice of Compassion.

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100% of your donation will be committed to this unique program—we earn the funds to cover overhead so all of your donation goes into supporting the program. Your gift will reduce distress and rebuild well-being for hundreds of frail elders, while also building the ability of tomorrow’s leaders in health care to ensure that the most vulnerable in future generations will be treated with compassion.

Your gift honors the past, improves the present, and invests in the future.

One therapeutic dose of compassion
The three greatest fears of aging are:

    • A long disabling illness.
    • Institutionalization.
    • Abandonment.

Our volunteer interns befriend 1,400 chronically and critically ill elderly patients in Santa Barbara’s nursing homes and hospital units for whom these fears are all too real. Most have no other visitors.

Social isolation is looming large as a risk factor endangering health and well-being in later life. Compared to more well-known risk factors, low social interaction is equivalent to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day or being an alcoholic. It is more harmful than not exercising and twice as harmful as obesity, according to research by Holt-Lundstad & Smith published in the journal PLOS Medicine (2010).

Suffering in later life, according to research by Balfour Mount, MD, of McGill University in Montreal, does not correlate with physical illness. Instead, our suffering correlates with the sense of isolation or disconnectedness, which can happen even in a room full of people. Dr. Mount described it as the absence of healing connections—those meaningful, caring moments of genuine connectedness that are so rarely experienced in institutional health care settings.

The Medicine of Compassion Service-Learning Internship delivers thousands of such moments, regularly and with reliably high quality. As a result we restore seven distinct and fundamental elements of well-being. These moments of connectedness reduce distress and make life worth living for those who are seriously ill or injured, even in their final days of life.

It is this art that we are teaching—the skillful, active use of compassion to transform human suffering and restore well-being. This is the practical alchemy of compassion as the universal solvent—to solve, dissolve, and resolve the hard feelings, harsh thoughts, and bitter experiences of sickness and trauma.

It is no small thing to rebuild well-being simply by the way you interact with someone. Proficiency is accomplished through a one-year internship for undergraduate students who are pursuing careers in health care. As a result, future doctors and nurses learn the art of treating patients with compassion.

This year we expect 100 students to participate. Following extensive training, each student commits to one or more years of service. Their gift of time, friendship, and wholehearted listening vastly improves a person’s well-being in their latter years.

We Change Lives by:

  • Focusing on abilities, not just disabilities. Because… people are more than patients – they are unique individuals, with strengths, resources and abilities. They are not invalid just because they are ill.
  • Taking an interest in lives, not just bodies. Because…  life is more than the body living longer – it is the quality of our experiences and the meaning they hold.
  • Welcoming participation from the sick and injured, rather than only doing things for them. Because… healing is more than medical treatment – it is a partnership, a journey, and a spiritual opportunity. Everyone has a role to play, and we all have something to learn from those at the edge of life.
  • Listening and leaning closer to painful situations, rather than avoiding or fighting them. Because… compassion is more than a feeling – it is showing up and connecting with people in their darkest hour. It is the power of love at work, transforming suffering.

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 meaning it has in our life – are 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 tending to push 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.

We Rebuild Well-Being

Well-Being PyramidAdventures in Caring (AiC) volunteer interns interact with residents in ways that deliberately build well-being in all seven domains described in the research paper by Fox et al. (2005) called The Eden Alternative Domains of Well-Being. As follows:

  1. Identity: Stories are heard in depth, and the residents’ lives are known well. The interactions focus on whatever is most important or interesting to the resident at the time. AiC volunteers fortify individuality by appreciating each resident’s strengths and what makes them unique.
  2. Connectedness: Common ground is established across generations, cultures, and interests. Experiences and stories are shared, sometimes in words, sometimes just in body language. Residents are befriended and become closely connected with enthusiastic young people in life-affirming conversations, for a year or more.
  3. Security: Trust is built. A safe space is created to speak of things that are close to the heart. Dignity is preserved. Respect is shown. Experiences are validated. Life history is honored.
  4. Autonomy: Choices are given often. Residents have permission to speak freely and confidentially about anything at all. They are never “shushed.” They choose whether or not to even have a conversation, and if they do, residents control the topic and length of conversation throughout.
  5. Meaning: Insights are gained. Memories cherished. Blessings counted. A resident’s contribution and purpose in life is acknowledged. Oral history and the wisdom of elders is passed on. Residents have the opportunity to share with young people what they have found to be most important in life.
  6. Growth: New perspectives are encountered across the generations. New depths plumbed. Forgiveness is found. Sorrow embraced. Discoveries are made. Horizons expand and experience is enriched even for the room bound.
  7. Joy: Moments of joy and genuine companionship are experienced. Number of smiles increase. Residents have something meaningful and joyful to look forward to—hope is renewed.