(Above: Photo illustration of Jane Compson by Ryan Moriarty.)
Universities are hubs of thinking. The pursuit of knowledge requires careful analysis and experimentation. Students commit themselves to a years-long process of exploration and growth. The same is true of faculty and staff. Sure, the objectives may be different but the approach is similar. This commitment to the cerebral has a curious twist. “I feel like academia and society as a whole are focused so much on the cognitive, but much of where the rubber meets the road is actually emotional or even spiritual,” said UW Tacoma Assistant Professor Jane Compson. Essentially, we’re thinking about everything except ourselves.
This neglect of self can lead to burnout, a topic Compson is currently exploring in her research. She’s come up with a program called CARE (Compassion, Awareness, Resilience, Empowerment) that addresses issues of chronic stress. Compson developed the framework for CARE while investigating burnout among nurses. “Burnout is a huge problem in the nursing profession and in the healthcare profession as a whole,” she said. Compson detailed the CARE heuristic for a paper published in The Journal of Nursing Education and Practice.
This past January Compson took her work out of the realm of the theoretical. She enlisted a group of staff and faculty as well as community members to participate in a pilot study to understand CARE’s efficacy. Sixteen people signed up for the four-week course. “This test was all about building the boat,” said Compson. “I wanted to find out what worked and what didn’t.”
Part of Compson’s intent with CARE is to build a research-based program that helps people reduce stress. “In the last years we’ve seen an explosion in what some call “McMindfulness,” she said. “I thought it was important to ground my work in evidence.”
Compson has a Ph.D. in comparative religions. Her course load at UW Tacoma includes classes on religion, ethics and the environment. Compson studies Buddhism, particularly the secular application of Buddhist teachings including meditation. Until recently, meditation was largely seen as a religious practice. “Everyone can do it,” said Compson. “You don’t have to be of a certain faith to benefit from what amounts to daily focused attention.”
Dr. Compson would like to run more CARE courses at UW Tacoma and in the community. She is looking for campus and community partners who may be interested in working with her to develop CARE courses in their contexts.
The pilot program ended in late January of this year. Participants focused on one aspect of the CARE model each week. Compson assigned the group homework that included meditation, readings and videos that were designed to better their understanding of the material. “I’m really interested in helping develop self-care literacy,” said Compson.
The group met every Wednesday to discuss the previous week’s lessons. That hour-and-a-half offered people a chance to ask questions and discuss best practices. More than that, the time helped foster a sense of connection. “This was a really good community builder,” said Compson. “We created a comfortable environment where people could really let their guards down and talk about their experience.”
Compson administered a pre- and post-test to gauge how well the program worked in terms of reducing stress and negative mind states. She is analyzing the results but doesn’t feel they’ll be statistically significant due to the small sample size. Compson is more interested in making tweaks to CARE in hopes that it can be used in other settings. “I’m interested in offering this as a course,” she said. Compson already incorporates mindfulness into her courses. She begins each class with a short meditation. “My students have really responded,” she said. “Students are very busy and I think they appreciate the chance to take a step back.”
Compson is, in a sense, encouraging a break from the type of thinking done on a university campus. That’s not to say people should give up on their studies; rather, that they take a few minutes every day to focus their thoughts inward. “Research shows that compassion and mindfulness have lots of physical and psychological benefits,” she said. “I hope CARE will help develop strategies for people to make a sustainable way of building these habits in their lives.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org