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 Burnout Series: Interview with Reverend Professor Stephen Wright

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Burnout Series: Interview with Reverend Professor Stephen Wright

anna magnowska

PRN spoke to Reverend Stephen Wright, who is Spiritual Director of the Sacred Space Foundation. The Foundation is a charity that provides rest and recuperation for people experiencing exhaustion, stress and burn-out.

Reverend Professor Stephen Wright is also associate professor to the Faculty of Health and Social Care at St Martin’s College, Carlisle

heart in hands.JPG

PRN: Do you have any advice for nurses on how to care for themselves day-to-day whilst working in busy, stressful environments such as acute hospital wards?

SW: I'd put it down to how you firstly express self-compassion and how you get taken care of. Here are ten things you can start by doing:

  • eat a healthy diet with proper meals and breaks
  • make sure you get a good night's sleep
  • take plenty of exercise
  • use some form of spiritual practice such as meditation daily
  • find someone/partner/close friend(s) with whom you can talk through problems at work
  • affirm and keep to clear boundaries/breaks between work and personal time - have a life outside of work!
  • make sure you have access to professional support e.g. union membership, supervision
  • have time out regularly to get taken care of such as a weekly massage,  a "me" day once a month, going on retreat etc.
  • pursue a hobby/interest that has nothing to do with work and absorbs attention/brings joy

 PRN: Is a culture shift  required to acknowledge the need for greater care of the self – either by individuals, or from an educational or organisational level -  in order for people care better for others?

SW: Yes, though I don't see much sign of it happening.  It is needed in three principal areas - firstly at organisational level where staff care is as much a target as patient care.  Secondly, building healthy clinical teams in the workplace, for example through leadership development, debriefing sessions for staff, teamwork days, trust building and so forth.  Nursing is a practical expression of compassion and it is best fostered where compassion is cultivated in organisations and teams, as well as for oneself. 

PRN: Do you think you have to be innately caring to be in a caring profession?

SW:Unless your consciousness has been profoundly damaged in some way, I think that every human being has an innate capacity to care.  Whether one should necessarily channel that into a profession of caring is another matter.  Looking at the evidence, nurses and other carers bring all sorts of unhealthy motivations, mostly unconscious, into their working lives which it would be better to address first rather than embarking on a caring career.  For example, many professional carers bring an overweening need to be needed (co-dependence) into our work that can lead to stress, exhaustion and burnout.

PRN: Does nursing needs to have a spiritual element to the profession in order for nurses to look after themselves and others to the best of their abilities?

 SWNot so much an element, rather it lies at the very core of the without heart and meaning, purpose and connectedness, without a sense of deep inner and outer support (however we perceive that) is more likely to become perfunctory, disconnected and utilitarian.