Learning Compassion
By Amy Greene, Board Chair | September 3, 2018

I’m currently in the teacher certification process for Cognitively Based Compassion Training – the amazing program born of a partnership between Tibetan monks and Emory University. CBCT is mentioned in the 2017 book Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes Your Mind, Brain and Body by bestselling authors Daniel Goleman (of Emotional Intelligence fame) and Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin, Madison). This book has the most up-to-date research on how the brain really can significantly change – not just in the moments of meditation, but in much more durable way. It turns out, you can teach old dogs new tricks and this old dog is very relieved and hopeful.

ACPE Certified Educator, Rev. Maureen Shelton, Director of Education at Spiritual Health at Emory Healthcare, is also a Certified Teacher of CBCT and is one of my teachers in this life-giving practice. She and Tim Harrison, the Associate Director of the CBCT program, came to the Cleveland Clinic last summer to conduct the introductory course for a group of doctors, chaplains, medical students and other patient-experience colleagues that a physician friend and I collected to form this inaugural group. That doctor, an atheist immunologist and rheumatologist, and I, his favorite religious nut, have formed a deep affection and a common passion to spread the word throughout the Cleveland Clinic about the multiple benefits of meditation.

Over two full weekends, we gathered in the Clinic’s meditation chapel and worked through the introduction to this methodical and analytical way of rewiring our brains. Of course, like all meditation, the secret is practice, practice, practice. Nothing this deep and potentially long-lasting can be taught quickly. But the building blocks of how to practice – based on the lojong (stages) Tibetan tradition, is clear and approachable – so much so that it’s taught in elementary schools and foster care homes in the Atlanta area with great success. Maureen and her colleagues at Emory have been utilizing CBCT since 2015 in their residency curriculum (some of you have heard her speak about it at the 2018 ACPE meeting in Atlanta, sponsored by the Community of Practice of Contemplative Practices in CPE Education, and at the 2018 National APC/NACC meeting in Anaheim.

The amazing work they are doing is best told by Maureen:

Spiritual Health at Emory Healthcare began utilizing compassion training in 2015 when all eight of our ACPE Educators collectively enrolled in Emory University’s CBCT® Foundation Course. CBCT – Cognitively-Based Compassion Training – is a rigorously researched protocol for cultivating compassion via meditative exercises. After taking this course as a group, it became clear to us that this modality, rooted in contemplative practice, was a course that we wanted to integrate into our residency curriculum to help support reflection, resiliency, and spiritual health best practices in our ACPE education program and in our hospital system culture.

In 2016, we partnered with the Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics which developed and houses the CBCT program at Emory. This collaborative effort is Compassion-Centered Spiritual Health (CCSH). Through this collaboration we began providing the CBCT Foundations course to chaplain residents and have recently completed our fourth cohort. After each course we then provide ongoing follow-up meetings with the residents to support the integration of these concepts and exercises into their residency.

Central to our development is researching how we incorporate this training in our residency curriculum. Along with our Certified Educators and in association with our Executive Director, George H. Grant, PhD, our research team consists of the Director of Research Charles Raison, MD, and Jennifer Mascaro, PhD, who leads the investigations as Assistant Professor at the School of Medicine. A strong recent addition to our team is Patricia Kim Palmer, MDiv, BCC, a former chaplain resident. Kim was one of the recipients of the Transforming Chaplaincy scholarship, completed her MSPH in epidemiology in 2018, and is now the Manager of Research Projects. We continue to work hand in hand with Professor Lobsang Tenzin Negi, PhD, developer of CBCT, and Timothy Harrison, Associate Director for CBCT, at the Center for Contemplative Science and Compassion-Based Ethics.

As our understanding of the power and promise of the training has taken hold, we embarked in 2017 on the development of a compassion-centered intervention (CCSHi) based on the practices and concepts of CBCT. Thus, in addition to researching CBCT’s impact on our chaplain residents, we are training a manualized approach and conducting outcomes research in our inpatient and outpatient populations using this innovative approach.

We are excited to share our learning and the training in CCSH as well as the accompanying interventions for patient care response and, eventually, for staff-support which we consider a future area of research. We look forward to our ongoing learning as well as exploring how to bring CCSH, the CCSHi Intervention training, and the CBCT Foundation courses forward to ACPE and to our strategic partners in spiritual care.

It is no exaggeration for me to say that this practice – and the work of becoming a Certified Teacher so that I can start conducting the training regularly at the Cleveland Clinic – has been a life-changer and life-saver. I had signed up to do the training before a massive organizational upheaval meant a system-wide anxiety attack – the end of a long reign of a famous CEO and the transition to the new era. I’m a systems thinker (and feeler) and I’ve been well aware of the impact such changes have on employees as well as patients and their families. So any help I could get with mitigating my own reactivity and making sure my compassion bucket stayed full was top of my list.

There are four ACPE educators in the current teacher training cohort, and I hope there will be many more down the road. If you want to talk about it, call or email me. I can’t say enough in this short column to convey what it has really meant to me. And beginning to feel competent to teach meditation to a very diverse group of professionals has put a joy back in my sometimes overly administrative work that I can hardly believe. I believe that we as ACPE educators have many skills already that are compatible with this training. Also, we should all be interested in practical, teachable interventions for residents and others -- especially if we can show their effectiveness at improving resilience and patient care outcomes. I’m excited about the research efforts and the potential for broader impact this partnership holds.
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