The following is an excerpt from my book chapter, Compassion in Pain Care, in the textbook Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain.
As healthcare practitioners, part of our role is to provide care for those suffering.
One might assume that compassionate care is inherently part of any healthcare provider’s role, including caring for people in pain. Surely we do not need an entire chapter dedicated to this topic. After all, compassion is the heart of caring1 and should be a natural response to those suffering, shouldn’t it? However, research shows that the capacity to provide compassionate care varies, depending on a wide variety of factors.2 Numerous health surveys and reports conclude that compassion is lacking in healthcare and many would argue there is a growing compassion deficit in some parts of the world.3
This chapter will outline the value of compassionate care for the person in pain provided by the healthcare practitioner, as well as the value of cultivating self-compassion in both the person in pain and the healthcare practitioner. Yoga offers a valuable and accessible framework from which to enhance and support compassionate pain care. How yoga can be integrated into models of compassion and self-compassion will be described as a worthy contribution to the biopsychosocial approach in pain care. (p.235)
People who live with persistent pain come to us often in desperation to be heard, seen, believed, understood, supported and helped. As healthcare practitioners, we do our best to help by using our knowledge and experience within the confines of the system, but can we do better?
This chapter shows us the value of compassion in pain care, which consists of compassion for the patient by the healthcare practitioner and self-compassion in both the patient and the practitioner. Although the research is not yet clear on how important or essential compassion is in pain care, growing research and a myriad of therapeutic experiences support that there may be benefits of training compassion, including self-compassion, for the person in pain and for us practitioners.
Compassionate pain care includes our capacity to gain a deeper understanding of the patient’s lived experience of pain and suffering and our ability to discern and have the courage to respond in a way that best serves the person in pain and our self, within the context of the situation. This includes providing a safe space for the person and listening patiently to their story so we can learn what the unique compassionate response might look like. Compassionate care also means having the skills to facilitate self-compassion in our patients and in ourselves.
This is no small task.
As professionals we do not yet have a guiding path to help us become more compassionate and to then share this with our patients. Yoga offers this path and provides many different techniques to enhance compassion, and even love, in ourselves and for others. As healthcare professionals, we may feel confused or uncomfortable with the thought of “loving” our patients and may believe it sounds odd, inappropriate or not within our standards of practice. However, consider this definition of love from biologist Humberto Maturana: love is “the act of allowing another to be a legitimate other.”117 Based on this definition, I suggest that we can indeed develop loving relationships with our patients. When Joletta Belton asked leading pain researcher Lorimer Moseley what the most important piece of advice would be for people in pain, he responded, “To love and be loved.”118
I believe love and compassion (and their neurobiological link) may be the most overlooked missing pieces in providing the kind of comprehensive pain care that people in pain require in order to thrive and live with ease. Compassionate pain care, in all its forms as described in this chapter, can be a way to love or to “allow another to be a legitimate other,” including ourselves. The practice of yoga helps us experience that there is little difference between self-compassion and self-love or compassionate care and loving another. Yoga therapy provides a unique framework for this compassionate approach to pain care and offers many accessible, safe and effective practices that enhance compassion and this loving relationship, benefitting both the person in pain and those of us who help people in pain. (pp. 255-256)
To order the book to read this chapter Compassion in Pain Care in the textbook Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain, visit HERE.
For a deeper dive into this topic, you can learn from the recording of the live webinar that I presented on this chapter HERE
Prosko, S. (2019). Compassion in Pain Care. In: Pearson N, Prosko S, Sullivan M. (Eds). Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain. London, UK: Singing Dragon Publishers; pp.235-256.