“Although our vulnerabilities and the external threats to our wellbeing are in many ways nothing compared to those of the persons whom we serve, it is important that we recognize our own before dealing further with the vulnerabilities of those whom we serve.
We are all vulnerable to breakdowns in our personal values. Sometimes these can be due to how we feel and what we are experiencing within ourselves; at other times we can be part of a system that makes it harder for us to respond to our shared values. If a caregiver is afraid of being hurt, he/she then becomes more likely to use restraint to control violent behaviors. Or, if a caregiver is depressed, then it is extremely hard to bring joy to others. If we are being beaten and de-valued at home, it is hard to bring non-violence into someone else’s home.
Many of our vulnerabilities are worsened by lack of adequate training and hands-on supervision. Some caregivers are quite isolated and seldom have the opportunity to discuss their problems and search for new responses to challenging situations. It is critical that caregivers recognize their weaknesses and find ways to overcome them. Community leaders need to listen to caregivers and find ways to offer support and encouragement.
Caregivers need to find their own self-worth from themselves, talking frequently, sharing their anxieties, and pointing out their goodness. Our own worth has to be generated from within ourselves. We need to form strong communities.
The question of burnout seems to be always present. Some caregivers give up and attribute their burnout to poor supervision, working in violent settings, receiving little guidance, or low pay. Since we are not only teaching feelings of companionship, but also a sense of community, it is important for caregivers to look at themselves, question their reality, and search for ways for themselves to feel safer, more engaged, and more valued. The first step in this is to step back and examine those things that make us vulnerable.
Let us take a moment to reflect on these aspects of our lives — recognizing these will help us understand better the needs of those whom we serve.”
~Excerpt from John J. McGee’s “Mending Broken Hearts” — CPLS Newsletter.
Gentle Teaching has become a main part of my life. During my university career, I have done many presentations and projects based on gentle teaching because it applies to so many different areas of study; whether it be Psychology or Kinesiology and Health Studies. As Assistant Home Team Leader, I dedicated most of my support times (and outside support times) to making sure the people I support are physically healthy. I continue to do activities to keep the guys active and engaged, but allow them to decide which activities are right for them! I pre-cook and freeze meals so that it is easily accessible for the rest of the team. This is done so that supports aren’t tempted to buy unhealthy food! Since this started, I have continued to encourage others on the team to do the same as well. As a result, the team has all begun to contribute to grocery shopping and cooking wholesome meals. This was not so they could be “fit” or “skinny”, but to better compliment one’s overall quality of life. I am a strong believer in how physical health affects one’s mental health, thus my pursuit of a masters degree in sport and exercise psychology.
Although I recently stepped down as Assistant Home Team Leader, I have continued to keep many of the same responsibilities. The title of ATL was not my motivation to be a leader! I will continue to be passionate about caring for the people I support, as that is the foundation of Gentle Teaching. Their companionship and presence in my life is enough to want to help with the quality of it. COR has shown me that I am capable of my own academic accomplishments. Sport and Exercise Psychology is not popular in Canada just yet, but that doesn’t mean I can’t continue to follow my interests and turn them into my passion. Even though I have stepped down from my ATL role, supports still contact me when certain issues arise; they still want to hear my advice and experience. I love this! For the first time, I feel like I am a mentor. I like knowing it is not my leadership status that motivates them to ask me for help. I feel as though they ask because they know I am effective at solving problems while still keeping one’s emotions in mind. It has become a very empowering experience. I love the leader that COR and Gentle Teaching has enabled me to become!
Kyla, COR Support
The past year that I have spent learning about Gentle Teaching, watching transformation occur, and seeing genuine relationships evolve has been my favorite experience as a nurse. The best part of the philosophy, and the most tangible to me, are the four pillars; safe, loved/valued, loving and engaged. These pillars easily tie into my clinical training in wholistic health, the view of body and mind as one dynamic process. If we break down each pillar separately, we are able to better see where we are balanced and where we need improvement.
How is your emotional wellness? Are you being nurtured? Do you feel emotionally safe? Do you have insight/intuition? Are you financially stable?
How is your mental wellness? Do you have opportunities to learn new skills? Do you have opportunities to share your wisdom with others? How is the environment around you?
How is your spiritual wellness? Do you have vision/inspiration/enlightenment? Do you have companionship? Are you connected socially? Do you have a connection to the earth?
How is your physical wellness? Do you have a sense of community? Do you participate in activities meaningful to you? How’s your energy? How’s your presence? Do you have meaningful employment?
These questions within the four pillars allow us to take a step back and look at the big picture of overall health, awareness of our body, mind, heart, spirit, and the connectedness between them. To be in good wholistic health is to maintain balance in various areas of our lives while continuing to learn and grow as a person. This is why it is important that we re-visit the pillars often to re-evaluate where we are on our wellness journey.
Gentle Teaching is a malleable tool that can be useful in all sorts of applications. Sometimes all you need is a little perspective.
– Haley Ralko, Director of Mental Health Services
Often when I have the chance to catch up with somebody I have not seen for a while, the question always seems to pop up: “So, where are you working these days?”. This is a funny question for me to answer because when you truly find something that you are passionate about and enjoy doing on a daily basis, it’s no longer considered work – this is how Gentle Teaching has transformed me as a person. After graduating high school, I soon found myself at a job that did not offer any growth for myself as an individual. A cooking job that provided forty hours a week, but had me asking myself if this is really how I want to spend the next however many years of my life, at a job where I simply show up for a nine to five shift, then go home. I can imagine that I was among millions of people who couldn’t wait to be done work to get home and relax, dreading the thought of having to go back the next day. I needed a change, especially knowing that I had much more inside of me than that. COR was an option that I had considered applying for, but was ambiguous about at first. It’s the type of organization that was very unfamiliar to me solely because I was one of many who had the common attitude that people with a disability may be seen as troublesome and based my perception on the idea of their “behaviour”. I took a blind leap into Gentle Teaching and soon realized that a critical part of this culture of gentleness is shedding these beliefs and valuing people for who they are. Now, two years later, I have found myself buried so deep in the lives of the individuals I serve that the thought of not seeing them throughout the week is unnerving.
With COR, I now find myself getting lost in the moment with these individuals that I can honestly call my friends, forgetting about time all-together. From being part of a fast paced, aggressive work environment in the past, to now being a part of a community that practices Gentle Teaching in every aspect in life is truly a blessing. Gentle Teaching has helped me focus on building a sense of companionship and community with those that I serve and that there is no nine to five shift when it comes to being involved in others lives. The relationships you create and maintain with others directly revolves around the time you invest with them, being WITH one another is one of the main lessons I have grown to appreciate since being introduced to Gentle Teaching. This philosophy is truly something special, something you can’t just turn on or off when it fits. I believe it’s the unconditional compassion for others in which we all have inside of us.
Sawyer, COR Support
I am becoming more aware that everything is interconnected. Having this mindset reminds me that everyone and everything has a purpose, is worthy of respect and caring, and has a place in this circle of life. As I sit and write this from a local coffee shop, I am aware that the woman sitting at the table next to mine is an extension of myself and at the same time something separate from me that I respect in her own right. This feeling of someone being a part of me is enhanced when they are in my care. I am supporting them but this does not mean they are dependent upon me. I know that this person does not need me in order to survive. Rather, I experience their development as bound up with my own sense of well being and my purpose, together co-creating our destinies. Interdependence is crucial in learning about yourself, feeling your own separateness yet seeing the other as the same as you. Gentle Teaching is based on the notion of human interdependence bound by unconditional love. The caregiver must delve into thorough self examination, wrapping her spirit up with gentleness to then provide and teach unconditional love and connectivity to the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our society.
My hope is that through my teaching and modelling the people I support will learn how to feel safe and loved. My role is to provide a safe space and opportunity for them to grow in their own right. I see their potentiality and I believe that my primary role as a caregiver is to aid in this growth. This does not give me power over them, but rather I see it as privilege to support and witness. I have been entrusted with the care of another, the opposite of possessing, manipulating or dominating. Caregivers must be heart-centered, focusing on feelings of the heart. I must be creative in how to express love abundantly and generously. Love to me doesn’t equate to an object but rather love is us at our core. Love is our whole being, our godliness. Care-giving is about knowing and choosing to be love. I believe that this will only be reflected back to you. This is how we teach. Life is nothing but an opportunity for love to blossom and for us to become love.
Caregivers must be genuine in their care. There must be no discrepancies between how the caregiver acts and how they truly feel. I can not care by sheer habit; I must be able to learn about the past to create my own moral based memory. I have found that we must develop a rhythm, observing our actions and reactions, in order to remove our expectations of the future. This requires watching people, situations and events and truly absorbing these experiences through thought and feeling. In light of those results we maintain or modify our behaviour, expressing love, no matter what. We must support in the here and now, meeting the people we support exactly where they are at today. This requires me to flow back and forth. Something that worked yesterday may not work today. I must be aware of what I am doing and whether this is helping or hindering the individual.
As caregivers we should not only ensure that those whom we serve are safe, and feel loved, but we also feel safe and loved ourselves. We must provide opportunities for the people we support to express their love, to care for someone or something a part from themselves. Efforts aimed at helping those we support to understand themselves in terms of their morality—characteristics like compassion, gratitude, mercy, and generosity—can restore their sense of identity. These bonds are critical to one’s well-being and health, as they are the source of all connectedness.
I engage with others in holistic and meaningful ways that support well-being and encourages connection. My favourite times are when I can wholeheartedly “be” with whomever I am supporting. It is then that I am able to access my inner-knowing to connect deeper with the person I am supporting. When we listen respectfully and attentively to what others say with what I call, our heart mind, we are able to know them much more than our rational minds allow. When we allow ourselves to delve into the deep pockets of love, connection and intuition, we are able to better understand the true essence of the person. I am forever grateful for the deep and genuine connections I have made with those I care for. I am constantly reminded this is the foundation of all relationships within our world, encompassed by our interconnectedness.
– Andie Palynchuk, Support Worker