SHU Hosts Talk on Compassion in Clinical Settings

News Story: October 11, 2017
Speaker Robert Wicks
Robert J. Wicks speaks at the Center for Healthcare Education

In the first lecture at Sacred Heart University’s new Center for Healthcare Education, psychologist Robert J. Wicks advised his audience that expecting too much of oneself can be dangerous. The talk was part of the new Contemporary Catholic Conversations Lecture Series and the Center for Healthcare Education Inaugural Year Lecture Series.

Wicks’ remarks to his audience—students aiming to be clinicians and seasoned faculty already serving in the field—were playful and anecdotal, but also sobering and cautionary. He related stories about conversations with medical providers in fields of combat and his personal challenges with his daughter, who struggles with a spinal condition and other afflictions. He also opened up about his own obstacles in delivering care.

Wicks’ talk, “Embracing Compassion and Hope in a Troubled World,” was part of the University’s Contemporary Catholic Conversations series, co-sponsored by the Curtis Center and the Human Journey Colloquia Series. Father Anthony Ciorra, assistant vice president for Mission & Catholic Identity, introduced Wicks, who also is an author, spiritual mentor and professor emeritus of pastoral counseling at Loyola University, Maryland. Calling Wicks a longtime friend, Ciorra read at length the featured speaker’s impressive credentials, which included a focus on treating secondary stress and teaching clinicians and caregivers about resiliency.

Wicks told his audience that “not being aware of secondary stress can be dangerous.” Clinician impairment, he informed, is most often a developmental condition that sneaks up on a person. “We act like we can’t fail, which is crazy. As a caregiver, you can’t be on 100 percent of the time. In fact, the more you’re involved, the more failure you will experience. And we have the crazy notion that people will actually appreciate what we do for them, and they will follow what we suggest.”

Further, clinicians often are “working with people who were expecting what [the clinician] couldn’t deliver. If we don’t lean back when we’re experiencing stress, it can get worse and worse,” he said,

Wicks pointed to other dangers, such as over involvement. “You need to pace yourself so you can remain involved,” he said. And he cautioned about encountering people who are angry and negative in the workplace. “Don’t give away your joy, but don’t pick on them either. Open up the space so they can share their burdens, but don’t expect them to be grateful,” he said.

He also warned about burnout. “We don’t know when to scream today. Our chronic stress shows up like lack of motivation or, worse, alcoholism. We’ve absorbed people’s distress and negativity,” he said.

To de-stress, “We need to let the dust settle between a work setting and home, and be mindful, to regain a healthy perspective. Find our gift and share it freely. Share inner peace, when we have that spirit of being a caring individual. Look at the peaks and valleys of the day and ask how you felt about the events and how you processed them. We need patience, perseverance and courage,” he advised.

“We’re not psychologically or spiritually at home much of the time as caregivers,” Wicks confessed. “We need to ask ourselves, ‘What aspects of my life or work are most challenging, and what approaches have I found helpful?’”

He said clinicians must adopt certain attributes. “Respect is essential if we want to share with others. Open up a space for people to rest their angers and doubts. Introspection—how do people feel when they are with you? They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. We also need to take care of ourselves.”

Some self-care protocols Wicks proffered included contemplative moments such as quiet daily walks, reading for 10 minutes a night, cultural experiences, spiritual reading, prayer, music and journaling. “What should we feed ourselves with? Almost anything will work again if we unplug it for a few minutes, then plug it back in,” he said.

Overall, Wicks encouraged, “Be sensitive and compassionate to the downtrodden and depressed, but also know who you are and take care of yourself. Darkness comes and goes for everyone who cares. If you sit in that darkness and are still present yourself and compassionate, you will become a deeper person and gain humility and wisdom.”  

Robert Wicks 10/4/17