A consultant psychologist at the Royal Free Hospital has written a book about helping NHS staff to overcome the emotional challenges of their work.

Barbara Wren’s book, True Tales of Organisational Life, includes memorable and moving stories of NHS work which have featured in Schwartz rounds.

Originally developed by the Schwartz Centre in Boston USA in 1995, Schwartz rounds allow all NHS staff to come together once a month to reflect on the emotional impact of their work in a supportive and confidential setting.

Barbara launched Schwartz rounds at the Royal Free Hospital in 2009 - one of the two national pilot sites. A typical Schwartz round sees a panel of four staff from a range of specialties discuss a single case that they found emotionally challenging, before the audience, made up of members of staff, share their own experiences of similar cases.

Barbara said: “Working in healthcare is both stressful and rewarding – the very challenging context of the NHS now adds to the difficulty.  Providing spaces within which staff can be cared for allows them to continue to work. These spaces can be individual therapy, coaching and training and whole organisation spaces like Schwartz rounds.  Schwartz rounds allow all staff both clinical and non clinical to get together, share their experiences and acknowledge how tough it is to do what they do, as well as how rewarding the work can be. They create a sense of community and accomplishment.”

She added: “Healthcare work is creative, rewarding, and meaningful for sure, but with huge potential for exposure to trauma and loss. So many people whom I saw for therapy came with the illusion that everyone else was doing so much better than them and that their distress, and difficulty coping, was their fault. Whole organisation spaces like Schwartz Rounds started to provide a real opportunity to tell stories to demonstrate that this isn’t true. Everyone struggles sometimes, healthcare work and its contexts can be tough, and both individuals and organisations have responsibilities with regard to minimising the impact of the work and organisational life.

“There are so many negative stories about healthcare in this country yet everyday wonderful work is being done that profoundly  and positively impacts on patients and  their families.  This book aims to celebrate that work and show how timely and flexible psychological interventions can support staff to stay effective and well, and continue to enjoy their work.”

True Tales of Organisational Life is available from Karnac books at www.karnac.co.uk.  See the Karnacology section of their website for an essay that Barbara wrote describing the process of writing the book: Crafting Story: Allowing Form and Meaning to Emerge.


Image: Barbara Wren

Notes to editors

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About the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust

The Royal Free began as a pioneering organisation and continues to play a leading role in the care of patients. Our mission is to provide world class expertise and local care. In the 21st century, the Royal Free London continues to lead improvements in healthcare.

The Royal Free London attracts patients from across the country and beyond to its specialist services in liver and kidney transplantation, haemophilia, renal care, HIV, infectious diseases, plastic surgery, immunology, Parkinson's disease, vascular surgery, cardiology, amyloidosis and scleroderma and we are a member of the academic health science partnership UCLPartners.

In July 2014 Barnet Hospital and Chase Farm Hospital became part of the Royal Free London. Read 'A bigger trust, a better future'.