7 Tips for Being a More Empathetic Caregiver

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WRITTEN BY:
Ivy Locke
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REVIEWED BY:
Edumed Editing Staff
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Success in the medical field requires a combination of hard and soft skills. Although the hard skills are arguably more important because they more immediately impact life and death scenarios, soft skills play an intricate role in the ability to be a more effective caregiver overall. For instance, many overlook the importance of being empathetic when treating patients. However, according to Harvard Medical School, empathy enables healthcare workers to better assess a patient’s conditions and compels them to be kinder and gentler when administering those treatments. With that in mind, here is a list of 7 tips to become a more empathetic caregiver.

Learn Active Listening

When it comes to empathy, active listening is paramount. According to Positive Psychology, active listening helps professionals forge meaningful connections, helps clients feel supported, and can help demonstrate greater empathy on behalf of the caregiver. This is because active listening involves supporting and encouraging patients to express their needs freely to assess them better. If you need more guidance on being a better active listener, click the link for more details.

Moreover, active listening can also make patients perceive you as more empathetic, even if you aren’t. According to Michigan State, this is because active listening is an art that involves listening carefully, paraphrasing what is being said, nodding to affirm their feelings, asking follow-up questions, and other behaviors that make people feel heard. Therefore, doing so consistently can allow you to build immediate, long-lasting rapports with your patients.

Build Your Emotional Intelligence

Next, building your emotional intelligence is an excellent way to become a more empathetic caregiver. This is because emotional intelligence involves self-awareness/management, stress relief, communication, relationship management, and more. Best of all, it can help you become more empathetic with others. According to the Help Guide, many employers emphasize the importance of emotional intelligence because it enables professionals to navigate complex work terrains better while leading and motivating their peers more effectively.

Practice Kindness

Although it may sound counterintuitive, deliberately practicing kindness is a fantastic way to become a more empathetic caregiver. According to Mayo Clinic, cultivating a lifestyle driven by kindness can help boost self-esteem while decreasing blood pressure and cortisol. It also helps boost compassion and empathy. This is because actively being kind to others is a lifestyle choice involving being helpful, generous, and considerate without being transactional. Therefore, if you practice kindness, being empathetic will become second nature.

Check Your Implicit Biases

One of the reasons caregivers may lack empathy is that they have implicit biases against patients. Indeed, although most of us do not judge or discriminate purposely, we may intentionally or unintentionally hold implicit biases or negative attitudes toward certain types of patients. According to Psychology Today, unchecked biases can hinder a person’s ability to understand or relate to certain types of patients.

Some ways to go about checking your implicit biases are as follows:

  • Focus on Mindfulness: Live in the present moment and be intentionally conscious of all negative and positive thoughts towards patients. When you experience negative thoughts, redirect them more positively and constructively.
  • Stereotype Replacement: Take some time to acknowledge the stereotypes you subscribe to. Replace them with more positive, non-stereotypical alternatives. For instance, if you believe that women are naturally stronger than men and need less pain medication, you could replace this stereotype with the notion that women are skilled communicators and capable of telling you exactly how they’re feeling in real-time.
  • Counter-Imaging: Another way to counteract implicit biases is with counter-imaging. This means that instead of allowing stereotypes to get the best of you, think about someone who defies the stereotype and embrace the fact that others will defy the stereotype as well.
  • Individuating: One fantastic way to avoid implicit biases is by individuating. This means that you consciously stop seeing people as members of monolithic cultural groups and start treating all patients as individuals.
  • Perspective Taking: It may be difficult at times, but if you try to imagine yourself in your patient’s shoes, you will have a better chance of being empathetic toward their needs.
  • Go to the Source: If there is a community that you are biased against, try interacting with more people from that community outside of the workplace. Over time, you will likely realize that everyone is different, and you can’t prejudge people based on race, gender, religion, etc.
  • Emotional Regulation: Lastly, as a healthcare worker, you can never let one “bad apple” spoil the whole bunch. However, if you’ve had multiple negative experiences with one demographic, you may immediately react negatively to those patients. Despite negative experiences with specific demographics, you need to dig deep and find a way to empathize with them so you don’t mistreat similar patients in the future. For instance, if you’ve had bad experiences with overprotective single parents, you may want to consider how scary it may be for them to have a sick child without a partner present and make a conscious effort to be especially pleasant and empathetic when dealing with them in the future.

Learn to Amicably Disagree

Complex patients come with the territory when working in the medical field. This is especially true when dealing with those who have a mistrust of the healthcare system as well as those who have a fear of doctors, needles, etc. These patients are highly prone to disagree or give you a hard time when you are trying to provide them with the care they need. There will be times when you have to give them some pushback regarding their requests and refusals. However, if you do so in a way that is considered disrespectful or insensitive, you will likely make matters worse. Learning to allow them to express their opinions while gently pushing them in the healthiest direction is the best way to build a rapport and manage their care while they’re in your facility.

Read More Fiction

Although reading fantasy and fairy tales may not be your idea of a good time, it can be the key to becoming a more empathetic caregiver. Experts assert that most people are prone to being emotionally swayed when reading stories. According to The Telescope, reading fiction causes us to suspend our beliefs and reserve all judgment in favor of exploring the story through the eyes of the narrator. Therefore, regularly reading fiction can enable you to learn different perspectives and, thus, be empathetic towards patients from all walks of life.

Focus on Self-awareness

Lastly, focusing on self-awareness is an excellent way to become a more empathetic caregiver. According to The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, the most compassionate are also very in touch with their own feelings and emotions. Specifically, it contributes to greater cognitive empathy, which is understanding others’ emotions. This is because practicing self-awareness and profoundly reflecting on your own emotions makes it easier for you to recognize and understand when these emotions are demonstrated in others.