Empathy is at the heart of my Whose Shoes?® work, looking at issues from different perspectives. Everyone having a voice and being valued; but at the same time listening to others and learning.
I am delighted to see that this approach is slowly becoming embedded into the fabric of health and social care, reinforced by the Francis report recommendations and draft legislation.
We are starting to accept that there are different types of expertise – professional, developed through years of studying and working; and ‘expert by experience’ which is … ‘exactly what it says on the tin’.
In this context, I’d like to share a couple of examples…
I have discovered the inspirational young writer and public speaker, Anya de Iongh. Anya was studying at medical school; she had to give up her studies when she unexpectedly became a ‘patient’ herself. This really struck a chord with me. My daughter gave up a place at medical school for her own reasons; for Anya the choice was not hers.
Anya has written a very influential blog about this for NHS Change Day. (I wrote about #NHSChangeDay in a recent blog and continue to be blown away by the simplicity and power of a wall of pledges for positive change.)
@whoseshoes thank you Gill! I am a great admirer of your work, so your feedback means a lot – Thank you!
— Anya de Iongh (@anyadei) March 19, 2013
And, as so often happens when bad things happen to good people, Anya is turning her experience into a way to help others. She is giving talks to medical students: people who would see complex cases such as hers as primarily ‘interesting’, as Anya herself used to do. These keen young professionals would not necessarily see and empathise with the feelings of the person to whom these strange and frightening experiences are actually happening.
The second example is a wonderful video produced by Cleveland Clinic Media Production that has come to my attention through several different channels, but unsurprisingly Anya has also spotted it. It brings the concept of empathy alive through a simple but highly effective approach of putting ‘thought bubbles’ above the heads of a cross section of people walking through a busy hospital.
One guy on the escalator has just heard that his tumour is benign; the person behind him has just had his worst fears confirmed. Staff too are seen to have their own thoughts and preoccupations – human beings doing their jobs in the context of real lives. It is a powerful lesson in empathy and tolerance.
Empathy is not just about people ‘walking in the shoes’ of patients. Sometimes equally powerful insights can come when people who need health and care support suddenly understand the often difficult roles of professionals.
The video below was made at a Whose Shoes?® workshop with Force 4 Change, a fabulous user-led group in Leicestershire. Listen to the powerful interview at the end of the video where Karen recognises the difficult path that conscientious social workers often have to tread, particularly in the current climate of limited resources.
… And, in true Monty Python style… When I said I’d give a couple of examples, I really meant three or four. Because empathy is the key to compassion.