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Can You Teach Compassion?

Being a caregiver—whether for a family member or in a paid professional role—requires many different skills. There are courses and certifications in caregiving available so that people can show up prepared to help with different needs. However, one of the most desirable qualities in caregiving is compassion and it’s debatable if that can actually be taught—and more importantly, learned.

What Is Compassion?

Compassion is one of those words that gets thrown around, and possibly misused, but you know it when you feel it—or not. Compassion is defined as “a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering.”

The second part of that definition is easy to overlook, but it’s at the heart of compassion. Compassionate people don’t just feed badly for others. They combine their empathy for what the person is going through with a strong desire to take action that will make the person’s situation better. The question is whether that depth of feeling, that drive to want to take action, can be taught.

Can You Learn to Be Compassionate?

The short answer is yes, adults can learn to be more compassionate. A study published in Psychological Science showed that adults could learn compassion. “In healthy adults, we found that compassion training increased altruistic redistribution of funds to a victim encountered outside of the training context,” the study authors noted. “These results suggest that compassion can be cultivated with training and that greater altruistic behavior may emerge from increased engagement of neural systems implicated in understanding the suffering of other people.”

The study was a two-part process. In the first part, the researchers taught the study participants how to be more compassionate using two methods:

  1. Compassionate meditation, which involves imagining a time when someone was suffering, and then rehearsing wishing or hoping for the person to be relieved of that suffering.
  2. Visualization of compassion for different types of people, starting with someone it was easy for them to feel compassion for, such as a loved one, and progressing toward a stranger or someone they disliked.

Results of Compassion Training

So, what did the researchers find? To test it, phase two of the study involved the participants playing a game that put them in situations that would test their compassion.

After undergoing this training, that group of participants showed more compassion than the control group in the study. And it doesn’t just change emotional response. The researchers found, through the use of MRIs, that the compassion training changed that group’s brains, increasing activity in the part of the brain that’s associated with understanding and empathy, as well as other parts of the brain involved in happiness and positive emotions.

Teaching Compassion

If compassion can be taught, the next question is, how do we teach it? Behavioral scientists have generally come up with a three-part process for how to teach compassion:

  1. People must be taught to feel that the problems the other person is facing are serious. They need to be taught not to brush something off because it wouldn’t be a big deal to them. It may very well be a big deal to someone else. This requires open-mindedness and learning to be less judgmental.
  2. They also need to be taught to resist the knee-jerk reaction that the issues are somehow the person’s fault. Often, when people believe someone is facing difficulties through their actions, they’re less empathetic and also less likely to help.
  3. Finally, they need to learn to lean into empathy, to allow themselves to imagine being in another person’s situation and feel what they may be feeling.

None of this is fast or easy. It requires work, introspection, and re-learning old ways of thinking. But, now we know that teaching compassion can be done. The training our caregivers receive at Homewatch CareGivers University includes person-centered care and highlights the fact that those who choose to work as caregivers should know “this is an occupation that requires a deep reservoir of compassion and a genuine desire to make people comfortable and happy.”

Get Compassionate Care for Your Loved One

Quality relationships—whether between family members, a client and their caregiver, or others—have deep, meaningful connections, which are based on compassion. When it comes to caring for another person who can no longer do everything independently, compassion is essential. Our compassionate, professional caregivers are ready to help when you need it with a range of care options, including chronic condition careFind a location near you or call 888-404-5191 to get started.

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