Mindful Design – Enhancing the Empathy Engine of Experts by Experience

“Experts by experience and deep listening are the keys to real innovation in health care. ”  Dr. Tamara Russell

What stops healthcare utilising this incredible resource to it’s highest potential?  Currently, it is often lip service – listening but not really listening, valuing, but not really valuing. Lots of listening, followed very quickly by a move into “expert” mode and prioritizing the research evidence base over human stories.

This leaves those who have been invited to offer their viewpoint often feeling slightly disappointed at best or used and rejected at worse.

Mindful design asks the following question: If we were to start again, particularly in the area of mental health – what would this work look like?

We suggest it includes

  1. Deep and open listening to those who live with the conditions we are trying to support
  2. Processes to enhance the creation of shared intentions and understanding in interdisciplinary work
  3. Responding to and integrating these insights into actual care pathways
  4. Stepping down healthcare “expertise” and letting go of the need to problem solve and fix with “data” and “concepts” (particularly in the case of long-term conditions)
  5. Recognizing that both “staff” and “patients” are not separate in their suffering
  6. Promotion of an integrative, humanistic compassion for ALL

Mindful Design is a way to support the above and ensure real innovation in healthcare design for the challenges of modern healthcare.

In a discussion with Rebecca Hatchett from SideProjects  we imagined what a mindful design around their Headtrip Project might look like. Headtrip is an immersive co-created audio experience of the experience of depression. It is being used as an empathy engine to help people understand the experience of chronic depression. With this understanding comes more compassionate care – whether by professionals or carers.

Having attended a “showing” of the Headtrip experience at a King’s Psychiatry Society event, it was clear that in order for health professionals to really connect to the power of this audio and what has been exquisitely curated in this audio , a mindful process may help to increase empathy and change actual behaviours in response to those with chronic depressive illness.

The intention: to make the most impact in the time given.

Our interdisciplinary mindful design includes the following suggestions

  1. Consideration of how the brain’s default mode network has been shaped by culture, tribe, training and personal experience. This shaping influences how any information is being filtered by the brain. Being explicit about how the medical and healthcare training and everyday mode of mind will filter this experience is already mindful listening. Medics and psychologists particularly need to actively manage the way their mind will be triggered by “symptoms” and thoughts about “treatment” they hear during the listening process. This is not wrong, but it will derail an embodied and deep personal experience with what is being shared.
  2. Conduct a transitional pause to ensure that everyone is in the room to have the experience (not still thinking about the patients or work you have just come from).
  3. Set the intention to listen with the 3Cs (curiosity, courage and compassion)
  4. Listen to the audio with a commitment to stay focused and actively manage the wandering mind. Listen with the body and the heart more than the mind
  5. After the audio – create time and space for a pause and connect to the body. The relevant information is not in the head/mind/brain …. it is in the body and the heart.   This might be guided or just a quiet space. Participants are encouraged to take three breaths, tune into the torso area, and notice what is there (and how the mind wants to play with the information it has received)
  6. Reflect on your listening and what facilitated and hindered empathy in the process (were you thinking about other patients? where you thinking about all the work you have to do? how engaged was your body and mind in the listening? how was it to step into those shoes as YOU, not as you in your role of nurse, doctor, psychologist etc)
  7. Remind yourself of the 3Cs (curiosity, courage and compassion) as you begin to share your experience with the group
  8. Have the courage to share your personal experience with others who didn’t have the time to attend the workshop!


The Mindfulness Centre of Excellence has a number of projects utilising Mindful Design. These include collaborations with SideProjects, Virtual-Awakening and Take-Pause.

Broadly speaking, Mindful Design covers

  1. The care of the team delivery the creation and delivery of the work. Compassionate working practices that optimise body and mind and soul in the work.  This work is then sustainable and adequately resourced, ensuring those delivering the intervention are fully psychologically and physically resourced to do the work
  2. The content of the interventions (informed by a deep listening interdisciplinary process that values ALL contributions)
  3. The set and setting of the intervention is designed in a brainwise way to ensure maximum impact in the most efficient way

For more information about Mindful Design please contact admin@drtamararussell.com.