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Moving resources is most often easier than moving minds: Minding our mindfulness in health behavior change.

Healthcare funders, and often healthcare leaders themselves, fail to measure and value the role of emotions in the social interactive processes they must manage to be successful in their work.   Both as responsible stewards of the public trust and as managers of people helping people, healthcare executives, philanthropists and frontline managers must master and value the role that emotions play in all forms of people helping.

Human behavior is central to every human activity.  Nowhere is this more important than in the interpersonal processes required in providing healthcare services.  Successful or efficacious human behavior (whatever one defines or measures success to be) is often dependent on mood, emotions, and psychological process that often go unnoticed.  Although emotions are hard to define, measure and see, our social interactions are often undermined by the miscommunications and misunderstandings that abound when we fail to master them.  Our lack of attention to emotional currents often capsizes our projects and goals.  Enter emotional intelligence, and our need as a society to mind our mindfulness.

Behavioral health is compromised by diseases that are addressed by our mental health and addiction services organizations.  The competencies required for administering behavioral health systems may be quite different from those required to provide and receive effective services.  Recruiting, developing and retaining behavioral health services talent is rarely central to a behavioral health plan, or even provider organizations.   Instead, like most health organizations, behavioral health organizations are most often bureaucracies that manage mortar and brick resources that sustain funding relationships, payment/reimbursement systems, and advocate for a handful of vocal community stakeholders.  The development of practice, both theory, modalities, and efficacies (workforce development) is often relegated to a subunit whose funding and leadership resources may be once removed from the daily operational priorities of the organization.  keeping the doors open may, first and foremost, require material, financial and political resources well outside of workforce considerations.  Perhaps this is the case because measuring practice efficacy and workforce competencies, though vital for direct service quality and outcomes, is not so easily measured or assessed.  Instead, funding and helping organizations (philanthropic investors, government funders, and private do gooders) rely on reports.  Outcomes (real community or service recipient impact/change, progress) and practice efficacy are rarely measured; and when they are, it is episodic, one time, or relegated to academic collaborations that are rarely formal and ongoing, much less sustainable and included in operational plans, accreditation activities, or funding considerations.  It’s no wonder, then, why most health and human service efforts fail in terms of how and who provides the services and people’s ability to take advantage of those services.

Because behavioral health challenges are principally personal and depend on the functioning of the mind, they require insightful and mindful approaches on both the part of the service recipient and the service provider.

We all at one time or another let our emotions carry us to places we thought we could never reach; and to some places and situations we never intended to be in. Emotions are an important part of our successes and failures; and that includes the emotions that drive the actions of others who impact our journey. It is hard to imagine that learning to manage our emotions and to better understand the emotions of others is not always seen as an extremely desirable thing that we can pursue in a straightforward manner. But for many it is not. The concepts that cover this important topic, “emotional literacy” and “emotional competence,” can be summarized in the operational definition of emotional intelligence as follows:

Definition of Emotional Intelligence (EQ): “… the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and other’s feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions. We posit that life tasks such as those described by Cantor and her colleagues and constructive thinking defined by Epstein are laden with affective information, that this affective information must be processed (perhaps differently than the cognitive information), and that individuals may differ in the skill with which they do so. Emotional intelligence is also a part of Gardner’s view of social intelligence, which he refers to as the personal intelligences. Like social intelligence, the personal intelligences (divided into inter- and intra­ personal intelligence) include knowledge about the self and about others. One aspect of the personal intelligence relates to feelings and is quite close to what we call “emotional intelligence.” John Mayer and Peter Salovey, 1990

We certainly need creativity on our side when addressing the need for innovative ideas in the area of resource investment in improving and sustaining the health of communities. Emotional Intelligence may be a more useful conception of those aspect of human intelligence needed when understanding, promoting, and/or addressing many of today’s most vexing social interaction problems. For example, finding ways for organizations to embrace, recruit, and implement human diversity; this is especially true in organizations that, of necessity, must deal with diverse communities. Philanthropic entities, government agencies, and healthcare businesses, that address social investing, healthcare planning, program development and implementation, are a good starting point.

Emotional Intelligence (also known as EQ) can be an important construct for defining, understanding, measuring, quantifying, and operationalizing the  professional competencies needed to build and implement more effective healthcare organizations.  Behavioral health is also a logical and much needed starting place.


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