HEALTH: National seminar to support to Ireland’s frontline practitioners

15 May 2021
By Tom Collins

On Tuesday 25th May 2021, the Heart of Frontline Practice collaborative group will hold its second national seminar for Ireland’s frontline practitioners.

Reconnecting with the Heart of Frontline Practice 2021’ is a one-day, virtual seminar to provide a safe and nourishing space for frontline practitioners to reflect on the impact of their work.

It is open to all frontline practitioners working in public, private or community roles in healthcare, social care, education and the justice sector.

The theme of this year’s seminar is ‘Vulnerability, humility and compassion at the frontline’.

The event will include stimulating presentations from guest speakers, interactive plenary sessions and facilitated break-out spaces.

The collaborators behind the seminar, Dr Maeve Hurley, CEO of Ag Eisteacht, Jim Sheehan, director of SHEP (The Social and Health Education Project) and Dr Nicola O’Sullivan, an independent social care consultant, have a shared interest in supporting those working at the frontline.

Jim Sheehan, director of SHEP, said: “We are aware of the additional pressures and stress that Covid19 has brought so we invite frontline practitioners to take time out of their routine daily practice to pause and to reflect on the impact the work is having on them.

“It is so important for us as human beings and practitioners to find space to connect with each other at a heart level and to give space to the many values that we share and sustain us in our work. ”

Taking a reflective moment in Garryduff Woods in Cork: Dr Nicola O’ Sullivan, Jim Sheehan and Dr Maeve Hurley, the three collaborators behind a seminar on 25th May to support frontline practitioners. (Picture credit: Clare Keogh)

Guest speakers will include Dr Aisling McMahon, a clinical psychologist, integrative psychotherapist and clinical supervisor, who will talk about ‘Vulnerability and humility in supervision relationships.’

Jim Sheehan said: “We rarely talk about humility in professional practice, but we’ve noticed in the context of the pandemic how an attitude of humble service is central to frontline practice for so many.  We appreciate even more strongly now that working from a place of humility in our service to others doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t also challenge systems, especially power systems, and advocate for important, much-needed change.”

Another guest speaker, Dr Tim Dartington, will explore reflective practice as one way of taking a breather at this time of difficulty and stress.

Dr Nicola O’ Sullivan,  independent social care consultant, said: “It is an essential task for frontline practitioners to contain the anxiety and vulnerability of those in their care, and that can be hard to sustain. We know that many in frontline professional roles are often so busy responding to competing and complex service demands that they find it hard to get in touch with that fatigued part of themselves. The word ‘resilience’ is often associated with frontline caring roles, but resilience is not located in the person alone; it is in their relationship with their organisation, community and in the systems they navigate daily.

“Spaces in which frontline practitioners can be vulnerable themselves and where they can get in touch with their own emotions and limitations as workers are scarce.”

Through its on-going work with frontline practitioners, the collaborative group is acutely aware that the systems of care in Ireland around sick and vulnerable children and adults are under enormous pressure.

“Many skilled and experienced practitioners we meet carry an immense weight of responsibility for their work and they live with the anxiety about decisions they have made or must make on a daily basis,” said Dr O’ Sullivan.

“If vulnerability is denied or seen as something weak and to be gotten rid of, then the experience goes underground, and can become aggravated and erupt in less manageable forms. A mature relationship with one’s own vulnerability at work fosters an openness to the emotional reality which underpins much of this work.”

The collaborative group believes that while, in theory, organisations generally recognise the importance of having reflective spaces for psychological support in these emotionally intense environments, the reality is that, in practice, these ‘spaces to think’ are often in competition with other priorities, so they get pushed aside. This is not always intentional.

“We see huge interest and hunger for further emotional support”, said Dr O’ Sullivan. “For example, in the local work we are doing as a collaborative group with Cork Healthy Cities on their PYSCHED initiative to support mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, when we offer these reflective spaces, they are immediately taken up.”

The seminar will also feature Dr Kate Lucre, a Birmingham-based, compassion-focused therapist, who will explore compassion and self-compassion.

Dr Maeve Hurley, CEO of Ag Eisteacht, said: “Given the enormous pressure on systems and people, it’s important to begin to think and talk about how we can be compassionate to ourselves and to colleagues, in the same way that we are compassionate to our clients/patients when they are struggling or suffering.

“We have an opportunity to consider how we might support skilled practitioners at work during these very complex and trying times. What we would like to see is systems or organisations thinking about how they can set up a cycle where compassion flows. Professor Paul Gilbert OBE, from the UK-based The Compassionate Mind Foundation, describes “The Three Flows of Compassion” as compassion for others (compassion flowing out), compassion from others (compassion flowing in) and compassion from our self to our self (self-compassion).”

As well as this one-day seminar, the collaborative group will provide shorter, reflective spaces to support frontline practitioners ahead, as Dr Hurley explains:

“We feel that is essential to create regular ‘touch points’ so that practitioners can take time out to think about how they are feeling so that they can feel sustained and supported in their work.

“Our hope is that this seminar and our other series of initiatives will help to raise awareness of this important issue and stimulate a national conversation about what more we can do in Ireland to provide emotional and psychological support to our frontline practitioners.”

Feedback from attendees of last year’s Reconnecting with the Heart of Frontline Practice seminar showed that almost 97% of the respondents believed that the seminar had provided a safe space for them. 87.5% said that they felt reconnected with their work and what drew them into it, and 97% agreed that incorporating reflective practice into their work was important.

The fee for this one-day seminar is €50. Places are limited and booking is via Eventbrite or email

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