Imagine a day-long retreat learning resilience and mindfulness techniques surrounded by gentle, majestic horses and grassy pastures. If it lowers your heart rate a bit just by thinking about it, you understand the premise of “Self-Compassion Matters,” a program developed by Dovecot Farm’s co-founder and chief compassion officer, Sarah Palmer. With a mini-grant from BeWellPBC, Palmer has provided five retreats to date for Palm Beach County’s front-line medical professionals and caregivers at her Loxahatchee Groves equestrian center for much-needed self-care day during COVID-19. “It has been a long journey in the compassion industry,” said Palmer. “To know that these professionals are cared for, to give them time on a farm to walk in nature, experience sound healing, and observe horses as part of teambuilding, brings a sense of humanity and sets them up for more success in their daily work.”
One of the five groups that experienced the Dovecot retreat was a team of eleven medical professionals from St. Mary’s Medical Center. Offered by the hospital’s chief nursing officer, Ruth Schwarzkopf, the attendees began with DiSC®, a personal assessment tool that stands for the four main personality profiles described in the DiSC model: (D)ominance, (i)nfluence, (S)teadiness and (C)onscientiousness. The model provides a common language people can use to better understand themselves and those they interact with, and then use the knowledge to reduce conflict and improve working relationships.
“The DiSC numbers reveal a lot,” said Palmer. “Nurses and medical professionals are typically very high ‘S’ for steadiness, but there is a lot of wear and tear. We help them create toolkits for self-care.”
Palmer also creates an environment for learning mindfulness complete with singing bowls, a gratitude drumming circle, walking meditations, and journaling while observing the herd. The activities take the professionals completely away from their daily workplace and open a space for reflection. “It takes a day for people to let it go, especially given the last year,” said Palmer. “We spend time sharing how they will take the learning and practices forward in their work tomorrow.” When the St. Mary’s participants provided their feedback, attendees commented that it was “an amazing experience that helped me realize the need to be in the moment and slow down” and that they had learned “different ways to achieve mindfulness.” Palmer saw the change in just that one day. “The eleven who arrived in the morning looked like completely different people at the end of the day.”
The BeWellPBC grant will fund an additional sixth retreat for the School District of Palm Beach County’s Wellness Promotion Collaboration Team, bringing the Dovecot experience to 60 participants in all. Other funded retreats included 211, mental health practitioners from Comprehensive Wellness Centers rehab facility and Keiser University. The success of the program has resulted in Palmer receiving additional funding from Palm Health Foundation to offer a similar program to nurses under the name “Barn to Bedside Retreat.”
Palmer sees her work as extending the compassion and understanding to front-line medical professionals that they provide to others. “We’re here to help build personal strength and resiliency and nurture a more coherent team.”