Do empaths make good nurses? Empathy guru and psychiatrist Judith Orloff, author of "The Empath's Survival Guide," says yes. "Many empaths also go into the helping professions because of their desire to serve others," she explained in Psychology Today. "As a psychiatrist, I get great satisfaction from helping my patients, as long as I can take care of my own energy and don't absorb the stress from my patients."
Business News Daily also sees the potential, naming the profession of nursing one of the best jobs for empaths, but only within certain limits. "Empaths are natural caregivers, wanting to help those who are unwell. As a nurse, you must have that instinct to help patients feel more relaxed and confident in the care they're receiving. Understanding a patient's emotional wellbeing can help nurses manage their care, but just like medical school, some nursing programs and hospitals are fast-paced and stressful. If you can make it through nursing school as an empath, try to choose a quieter place of work, like a doctor's office or a nursing home, if you would like a quieter job and more time with patients."
How to be an empath without crashing
According to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California-Berkeley, empaths walk a fine line. "Researchers tell us that our initial empathic responses can shift in one of two directions—toward empathic distress or empathic concern," the research center said. "Empathic distress, associated with negative feelings, can lead to withdrawal, poor health, and burnout. Empathic concern, on the other hand, can lead to positive feelings, good health, and the desire to help." Here are Greater Good's tips for reaping the good without succumbing to the negative effects of being an empath:
Check in often. "When you notice yourself feeling distressed by someone else's struggle, it's worth pausing, taking a breath, and asking yourself exactly what you are feeling," GGSC noted. "Otherwise, you may perpetuate feelings of distress and be unable to reach out with genuine empathic concern in the first place."
Detect your own feelings. In navigating "distressful feelings," employ cognitive reappraisal. This means asking yourself questions such as "What is the situation that triggered me?" and "Is there another way to look at this? If so, what is it? Is there an action I might choose to take right now?" GGSC added.
And in general, nurse-empaths should always treat themselves kindly, according to Orloff. "To thrive, empaths in the helping professions must learn how to stop taking on the stress and symptoms of their patients and clients," she added. "They can do this by scheduling breaks between clients to meditate, set clear limits and boundaries with people, and take adequate time outside of work to relax and refuel."
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