Building Resiliency Through Positive Psychology

December 22, 2016   |  Tags: Blog   |  Tags: Clinician Vitality , Behavioral Health Integration
Nicole O'Kane, PharmD

Burnout among health care providers has a significant negative impact on care – on compassion, performance and patient centeredness. It can also be a significant barrier to improvement and innovation in a challenging work environment. The new science of positive psychology offers insight into new methods to improve resiliency, along with techniques to address burnout issues in the work place.

More than 100 people practiced positive psychology techniques at an afternoon learning session during the HealthInsight Annual Quality Conference in November. The one-day community event brought together health care providers and administrators to learn strategies for improving care. You can learn more about the conference here.

The learning-and-action session on positive psychology demonstrated that our inner state is influenced not just by our external environment, but by our perceptions and mindset – things that we are more likely to be able to control. The conference participants reviewed a Resiliency Toolkit for health care staff or patients, which introduces concepts and techniques that can be used in the work place or at home (e.g., gratitude journal, signature strengths, and physical activity). 

The aim of a gratitude letter or journal, whether or not it is sent or shared, is to increase ongoing feelings of well-being by regularly fostering positive cognitions, feelings and behaviors. Participants in the learning-and-action session, including health care professionals, patients and family advisors, were asked to write and share a letter of gratitude addressed to someone who had contributed to their well-being. It was refreshing to see their faces glowing as they quietly created their gratitude letters. Each person travelled briefly to a memory of an important relationship and accomplishment in his or her life. They reflected on acts of kindness and the benefits they received with appreciation.

During the session, many people felt comfortable sharing their letters with their colleagues. Soon the room transformed into a bubbling discussion of gratitude. The audience was pleased to learn that the benefits of positive psychology are immediate, and ongoing if practiced regularly. They agreed overwhelmingly that the exercise had provided value, and they were excited about putting these principles into practice (e.g., as an exercise for a monthly staff meeting, a dinner table activity or a topic at an organizational retreat).

Positive psychology can play a role in improving resiliency. Based on the response to the learning-and-action session, it would be worth your time to explore ways to introduce these practices in your community. The Resiliency Toolkit is a good place to start.

For even more tools and resources related to resiliency, fighting burnout, and positive psychology view the Behavioral Health Integration Resource Library and the Clinician & Organizational Vitality resources on the Institute website!

Nicole O'Kane, PharmD is the clinical director at HealthInsight Oregon, a nonprofit organization that focuses on improving the quality, safety, and value of health care for all Oregonians. She provides clinical, pharmaceutical, and data evaluation expertise to state and federal quality improvement and research contracts. Her expertise is focused on safe medication use and addressing the needs of people who have complex medical conditions, such as elders who have conditions such as depression, diabetes, heart disease or chronic pain.