Guest blog contributed by Ashley Musial, M.Ed, BCBA, Board Certified Behavioral Analyst at ChildFirst Behavior Therapy.
Compassion can quiet a suffering soul. Alternatively, indifference can stir up deafening anguish, particularly in the face of the unknown. Is this so far-fetched? I say no. I have experienced both ends of this spectrum and compassionate care has been the key feature of my own experiences with medical and mental health professionals alike. My experiences do not make me an expert in compassionate care. Rather, it is a platform to share what I have learned as a consumer of healthcare services as a mother, a wife, and behavior analyst, to name a few. Today, I speak to you primarily as a mother - a mother of 6 boys, some of whom receive therapeutic services; all of whom deserve compassionate care. Collectively, we have received speech, OT, ABA, counseling, and other services meant to enrich our lives and empower us to live more fully.
It is important to say I truly believe each provider has come with the best intention to meet us where we are and support us toward our goals. That said, I have never had a conversation with or received information from a healthcare provider that directly spoke to the importance of compassion in the therapeutic process. So, it seems important to tackle that first.
Compassion in the helping fields can be thought of as something someone does (an action) that alleviates another person’s suffering (Sinclair, Norris, McConnell, Chochinov, Hack, Hagen, McClement, & Bouchal, 2016; Rodriguez, Tarbox, & Tarbox, 2023). This means compassion goes beyond feeling like you want to help someone and actually puts those thoughts and feelings into action. Compassion is essential in all the helping fields because we, as patients and caregivers of patients, need support and relief. It is that simple. It is, of course, not the only thing we need from our providers, but it is key to establishing a trusting relationship. When your provider dedicates a few moments of precious time to understand your plight and crafts a treatment specifically for your needs, it can bring hope for change. Hope alleviates many kinds of suffering. On the other hand, if your provider does not consult you, leaves little room to know you and your needs, and/or appears indifferent to your concerns, this will also have a significant impact on your willingness to participate in your treatment. Research supports lower levels of perceived compassion can reduce positive patient outcomes (Sinclair, et al., 2016). Ultimately, each individual, child or adult, deserves compassion, quite frankly, because they are human.
But what about aggressive or problematic behavior?
I want to take a moment to speak to those of us who wonder if our behavior or our children’s behavior is undeserving of compassion. Maybe we have reason to believe they brought this suffering on themselves. I have certainly seen severe aggression in my days practicing as a behavior analyst. Sometimes, parents are ashamed or angry about these behaviors, rightfully so, because they are tired of being hurt and living in survival mode. I argue that compassion can and should be extended to both parent and child. This is because I have never met a child who engaged in severe aggression that wasn’t suffering. It is easy to miss the importance of compassionate care when someone is physically or emotionally aggressive with you, yet it is vital to maintain a child’s dignity throughout their entire treatment. Is your child’s dignity being considered in therapy even when they engage in these behaviors? If not, it might be time to directly address what compassion in treatment looks like to you and your child with your provider.
What does compassionate care look like?
Compassionate care will look different for many people. This is primarily because we have many different preferences and learning experiences that shape the way we get relief. There are some general ways people feel compassion, such as honest but gentle words and small acts of kindness (Sinclair, et al., 2016). Others experience compassion through a smile, the physical presence of their provider, or maybe even through quick responses to their inquiries. For me, I have felt compassion from my providers when they took just a few extra minutes to explain treatment options and ask for my feedback. This helped me feel like a valuable part of the team and increased my self-confidence to carry through on the treatment. In turn, self-confidence lowered my stress levels (suffering), so it is safe to say compassion was achieved here. Keep in mind that compassion is person-specific. What relieves one person’s suffering may not relieve another person’s suffering. Take a moment to consider the last time you felt better after interacting with another person? What did they do that made you feel a little better?
Am I receiving compassionate care?
This is ultimately the question you need to answer for yourself. As a patient, has my provider taken time to know me? Have they engaged in behavior that has moved me toward my values and goals? As a parent, am I supported and valued as a part of my child’s treatment team? Does this help alleviate concerns I have about my child? The presence of compassion can alleviate enough suffering to make room for you to actively contribute to your treatment; to be a valuable member of your treatment team. This makes compassion in a therapeutic setting indispensable.
Overall, compassion should be considered a necessity in all areas of healthcare. It is necessary for building a strong relationship that will ultimately support greater treatment gains. As a community of parents with children receiving therapy, let’s take a stand against being a cog on the wheel. Let’s join together and show healthcare providers just how important compassion is to the lived experience of their patients. Let’s be the change we want to see in the world. Compassion is real, it’s out there, and it’s attainable. Let today (or the next therapy session you attend) be the day when you go to your provider and say something like, “I’d like to have an honest conversation about how you can support me (or my child) with compassionate care (alleviate my suffering).”
Rodriguez, K.A., Tarbox,J., & Tarbox, C. (2023). Compassion in autism services: a preliminaryframework for applied behavior analysis. Behavior Analysis in Practice.DOI: 10.1007/s40617-023-00816-x.
Sinclair, S., Norris, J.M., McConnell, S.J.,Chochinov, H.M., Hack, T.F., Hagen, N.A., McClement, S., & Bouchal, S.R.(2016). Compassion: a scoping review of the healthcare literature. BMCPalliative Care, 15(6). DOI: 10.1186/s12904-016-0080-0.
About Ashley Musial
Ashley is a mother of 6 boys, one on the autism spectrum. Her therapeutic focus is providing high quality ABA services with a strong emphasis on compassionate care.
ChildFirst Behavior Therapy is located in Arlington Heights, IL, and provides ABA Therapy both in-center and in-home in the immediate surrounding area. Currently, there is no wait for daytime services so call today to reserve your spot!
C.I.T.Y. of Support is grateful to Ashley Musial at ChildFirst Behavior Therapy for her participation as one of our organization's sponsors. Please note that the information and opinions presented here are specifically her own. The purpose of C.I.T.Y. of Support's collaborative blog is to help connect families and professionals to different community resources, and we do not specifically endorse any particular recommendations provided herein.