Cultivating compassion for those who work with the dying a topic of keynote speaker for Nov. 14 hospice conference

Hospice Conference logoUnderstanding how clinicians respond to the distress and suffering of others is critical to those who work in palliative care, says the keynote speaker of an upcoming conference hosted by three local nonprofit organizations focused on hospice care.

“Over the past 45 years, I’ve worked with various types of clinicians in the end-of-life care field,” said Joan Halifax, PhD, a pioneer in the field of end-of-life care, “and so many have experienced a certain amount of distress.”

Halifax will explore the power of compassionate care of the dying during the End-of-Life Community Conference ‑ Compassionate Conversations: Dying and Living Well, on Friday, Nov. 14, from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at St. Philip’s in the Hills Episcopal Church, 4440 N. Campbell Ave.  The event is sponsored by TMC Hospice, Carondelet Hospice & Palliative Care and Casa de la Luz Foundation.

HalifaxHalifax received her doctorate in medical anthropology in 1973 and has lectured on the subject of death and dying at academic institutions and medical centers around the world. She received a National Science Foundation fellowship in visual anthropology, was an honorary research fellow in medical ethnobotany at Harvard University and was a distinguished visiting scholar at the Library of Congress.

Her work adds to an expanding body of research that is evolving within neuroscience and social psychology focusing on empathy and compassion in response to suffering.

“It takes patience, courage, insight, discernment and real concern to care for the dying,” said Halifax, who is also founder, abbot and head teacher of Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, N.M.

One thing she plans to discuss is misperceptions about empathy and compassion.

Empathy is, in part, “about attuning to the emotions of others and taking others’ perspectives,” she said. But empathy does not necessarily involve concern for others or the intention to relieve the suffering of others.

“Empathy can be fraught with pitfalls. People can experience empathetic distress.”

An important part of compassion is regulating one’s empathy, said Halifax, who trains health care workers to be “more grounded, more intentional and balanced; to work with one’s own emotional response.”

“There are many approaches to cultivating compassion,” Halifax said, and one of her goals for conference participants is “to create enthusiasm for compassion.”

To register or for more information about the conference, visit


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