Expert Insights: Dr Manuel González-Barón on the Power of Compassion

We have interviewed our close friend Dr Manuel González-Barón about the importance of empathy within the medical profession. Dr González-Barón works at La Paz University Hospital, Madrid and has made significant contributions to the fields of neurology and neuroscience. In an article for ABC, Dr González-Barón talks about a conference he held for third and fourth year medical students on the issue of the humanisation of medicine, looking at how suffering needs to be approached and explained.  Click here to read more!

Dr. González-Barón’s insights resonate deeply with Baytree’s focus on trauma-informed practice and relational communication. His approach to empathy in medicine parallels our work in supporting vulnerable women and girls, emphasising the power of compassionate care. We were fortunate to interview him on empathy training in healthcare and its relevance to Baytree’s work. Read below to see what he had to tell us.

Love without truth is meaningless and truth without love is cruel

What role do you see storytelling and narrative medicine playing in addressing suffering and fostering empathy among healthcare professionals?

Storytelling and narrative medicine play crucial roles in humanising the patient experience. They enable healthcare professionals to see beyond the clinical diagnosis to the person behind the illness, fostering empathy by understanding the emotional, social, psychological, and spiritual aspects of a patient’s suffering. This deeper connection leads to more compassionate care. I love doing role plays when educating future doctors.

How can healthcare institutions and organisations better incorporate the principles of compassion and suffering alleviation into their practices and policies?  

A human body is made of body and soul; therefore, it is important for the medical field to incorporate compassion and suffering alleviation. Healthcare institutions can do this by training staff in empathetic communication, integrating patient-centred care models, and creating policies that allow time for meaningful interactions with patients. Developing support systems for staff to manage their own emotional responses and burnout is also crucial. This should include psychologists and priests, who play a role in the care of people suffering or end-of-life care. Prioritising these aspects can enhance the overall quality of care and patient satisfaction.

In a world that often prioritises technical proficiency, how can health professionals strike a balance between medical expertise and the human connection in patient care?

Balancing medical expertise with human connection is key in healthcare. Every human being has a unique dignity, which means each one of us matters and is important. Professionals can achieve this by practicing empathy, engaging in active listening, and acknowledging their patients’ emotions and experiences. Workshops on communication skills and emotional intelligence can help maintain this balance. The human connection should be seen as integral to effective healthcare.

When communicating bad news to a patient, we must tell the truth in a way they can bear it. Not telling the truth goes against their dignity, but telling the truth brutally can crush them. Love without truth is meaningless, and truth without love is cruel.

As The Baytree Centre focuses on trauma-informed practice and a relational approach to communication, how do you see these principles aligning with the idea of alleviating suffering in vulnerable populations, especially women and girls?

The principles of trauma-informed practice and relational communication align closely with alleviating suffering, especially in vulnerable groups like women and girls. Understanding the impact of trauma and fostering safe, respectful, and empowering interactions can significantly help in healing and recovery. This approach acknowledges the whole person and their experiences, which is essential in addressing the unique challenges they have gone through.

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In your experience, how can community organizations like The Baytree Centre contribute to a more compassionate and empathetic society?

Organisations like the Baytree Centre play a vital role in building a more compassionate and empathetic society. They provide essential services, support, and advocacy for those in need, often filling gaps in mainstream healthcare and social services. By addressing individual needs and working towards systemic change, these organisations foster a community spirit centred on care, understanding, and mutual support.

Could you share a memorable patient story that exemplifies the profound impact of love and compassion in medicine?

I have many beautiful stories. One memorable story is of a young man who died of terminal cancer. He was in great agony, not just due to the pain but also fearing for his family’s future. With the help of a psychologist and a priest, he accepted death peacefully and spent his last days joyfully with his family. After his passing, his wife and brother sent me a beautiful letter, expressing how the love and support they received made his final moments a beautiful, though painful, experience.

What advice would you give to young medical professionals and volunteers at organisations like The Baytree Centre who are committed to alleviating suffering and providing compassionate care?

For those starting in the medical profession or volunteering, always learn and re-learn empathy and compassion. Remember that each patient is a unique individual with their own story. Active listening, continuous learning, self-reflection, and self-care are essential. Balancing professional responsibilities with the understanding of the human aspects of care will make for not only a successful career but also a fulfilling one.

We want to give a special thanks to Dr. González-Barón for sharing his stories and insights, demonstrating the importance of empathy and compassion.

Fostering empathy, including showing love and respect for others, is a core value of Baytree. It is a key aspect of achieving our aim of building a more inclusive and supportive society. If you want to find out more about the ways in which the Baytree Centre incorporates these values into our work, click here to see what we have been up to and follow us on our socials!

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