Gary Tetz
Gary Tetz

Self-compassion isn’t something I do very well. That’s probably because I was born in Canada, and when the doctor slapped my wrinkled baby butt, I said, “Sorry!” instead of crying. 

While American children started the school day reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, we stood with our hands over our hearts and chanted, “For the rest of my life, I promise to always blame myself and apologize for things that aren’t remotely my fault.” I’ve continued to do that throughout adulthood, for fear of having my Canadian citizenship revoked. It’s no coincidence that my favorite childhood board game was “Sorry!

Within long-term care, teaching self-compassion might not seem to merit a high priority in employee training programs — yet. But in a new study reported by McKnight’s, CNAs were able to reduce stress, increase their compassion toward residents and enjoy other benefits by learning and practicing self-compassion techniques. 

Self-compassion includes three elements, according to Kristen Neff, Ph.D., the clever scientist who is said to have coined the term — self-kindness versus self-judgment, a recognition of common humanity versus isolation, and mindfulness versus overidentification. As someone who frequently falls on the wrong side of each, I can personally verify the validity of her definition and my need for instruction.  

According to McKnight’s, three mid-sized nursing homes participated in the self-compassion training study, which introduced 30 CNAs to standardized mindful interventions, including guided meditation and other skill-building exercises. After three months, significant improvement was reported, particularly in stress and depression. 

I’ve long believed mindfulness and meditation should be taught in schools and workplaces, so results like this suggest exciting possibilities, and show that such programs might be feasible in other long-term care settings. They could even demonstrate actual ROI, by reducing burnout and increasing feelings of personal fulfillment and job satisfaction. 

From my own experience, practicing self-compassion and mindfulness is a lot easier to read about and theoretically embrace than it is to actually do in a transforming way on a daily basis. I have a meditation cushion sitting mostly unused in a corner of my living room facing a dusty Buddha figurine and a heap of unburned incense, and just looking at it right now, I was engulfed by a wave of self-judgment and overidentification with my failings as a pretend meditator. 

I suspect I’m not alone in feeling like a mindfulness imposter, and that’s why formal training in a group work setting could work wonders for our motivation, accountability and commitment to a daily practice. Along the way, it would almost certainly make us better people, friends and colleagues. 

Admittedly, this sort of self-compassion training program might not work for everyone, or at all facilities. But I’d never forgive myself if I didn’t at least advocate for it.

Things I Think is written by Gary Tetz, a two-time national Silver Medalist and three-time regional Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Association of Business Press Editors (ASBPE) awards program, as well as an Award of Excellence honoree in the recent APEX 2020 Awards. He’s been amusing, inspiring, informing and sometimes befuddling long-term care readers worldwide since the end of a previous century. He is a writer and video producer for Consonus Healthcare Services in Portland, OR.