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Mind, Body and Soul well taken care
06 January 2016

Everyone took to their seats as the echoes of chatters and small talk diminished on a Thursday morning at the HCA Auditorium. The silence of the room and voice of the therapist calmed and brought the staff away from the hustle and bustle of their day’s routine.  Andy Ho Hau Yan, Assistant Professor of Psychology in Nanyang Technological University introduced Mindful Compassion Art Therapy (also known as ‘MCAT’) to the staff of HCA Hospice Care. To date, it has reached more than 60 palliative care professionals.

“It is important to be present and feel for the patients, but it’s also important to let go and take good care of ourselves,” says a participant of the MCAT session. There is a need to recuperate, relieve the stress and emotions from the work that the staff of HCA Hospice Care does.

What exactly is MCAT?

MCAT targets hospice palliative care professionals, as well as terminally-ill patients and family caregivers. It helps to reduce stress and burnout, promote holistic wellness, build internal resilience, and cultivate sustained compassion. It combines the practice of mindfulness and art therapy which allows individuals to understand themselves better and get in touch with their emotions. It enables them to face and heal from their sense of loss and grief, offer and receive support and loving kindness from others, and ultimately, find greater meaning and new perspectives for growth and transformation.

“Upon experiencing firsthand the immense stress and pressure Singaporean palliative care professionals go through on a daily basis and seeing that there is no formal and available means for self-care and support, I decided to embark on the MCAT project,” says Prof Andy.

As the participants complete and pen down their thoughts of their art pieces, they are called back into a calm and soothing state. A personal time to simply focus on the present moment without judgment, freed from debilitating thoughts that trouble them endlessly on a daily basis. It enables them to heal, find peace, attain new perspectives, and build inner strengths and resilience within the contentment of stillness. After a few introductory exercises, the staff were able to practice mindfulness with ease.

Prof Andy believes that the integration of mindfulness practice and art-therapy has immense potential to create a platform for self-care and support which could cultivate sustained resilience, compassion and growth among those immersed in the field of hospice and palliative care. Creativity and self-expression through art is the most natural and direct means of communication. A picture truly paints a thousand words – many found interest and realised they could express themselves through art.

Each of them took turns to share their thoughts and express their feelings through the strokes and colours used in their artwork. At times, they were able to identify with colleagues who created similar images and paintings. They were also able to gain different perspectives from one another’s creation.

“The process of creating art brings about feelings of relief and allows for opportunities to reflect and gain deeper understanding. Generally, it feels good to create art free from judgment,” says a participant.

“The practice of mindfulness do not require an expensive gym membership that is rarely used, it only requires us to be present in the here, in the now, in the present moment,” says Prof Andy. “The creation of art is the purest form of communication, it enables us to explore and express our deepest thoughts and emotions”.

As the session came to a close, chatters and laughter began to fill the atmosphere as they slowly made their way back to work. With such therapy and support, there is an assurance that we can minimize the issue of burnout and establish a healthy work ethic for those engaged in the hospice and palliative field.

To find out more, please feel free to contact Dr Andy Ho at NTU and look out for MCAT talks and brief workshops around your areas! Like HCA Hospice Care on Facebook to find out more about our daily happenings!