The Canadian Centre for Caregiving Excellence (CCCE) is supporting three six-week mindfulness sessions for caregivers and care providers starting September 2022. But what is mindfulness and why is everyone searching for a way to achieve it?

We interviewed Sue Hutton, the mindfulness teacher and social worker behind these sessions, to learn about her practice, the benefits of mindfulness and what participants can expect from her upcoming programs.

What is your occupation? How long have you been working in the field?

I am a registered social worker for people with disabilities and their families. I began my path in the disability field at the age of sixteen, when I took a summer job at a horse farm. I taught riding lessons to a group from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. I loved that experience so much!

A few years later, I became a support worker for a family that lived in my apartment building. They had a child that experienced seizures from birth and had complex disabilities. The parents needed immediate support and enrolled me augmentative communication training. From my time with the family, I recall the unsettling experience of cold medical rooms filled with white coats distantly observing the child. The emotional challenges of the parents were not acknowledged. I was there for the child and parents as they lived through such turmoil navigating the system, and knew I wanted to be engaged in supporting people in this work. That is where my journey to my career in social work officially began!

How did you get into the mindfulness field? What drives you?

I was incredibly lucky to come across Ram Dass, who is touted as bringing mindfulness to the West when I was 16 (a pivotal year for me!). I was so taken that I went to India to do silent mindfulness retreats for a year when I was 22. I have continued to maintain my practice with formal teachers and did my professional training in 2007. I began teaching mindfulness-based stress reduction in cancer settings after that training.

While working at Community Living Toronto, I fortuitously met Dr. Yona Lunsky from the CAMH Azrieli Adult Neurodevelopmental Centre at a clinic for people with developmental disabilities. At the time, Dr. Lunsky was launching a randomized control study to explore mindfulness for caregivers, and she needed someone with the formal training to lead the groups. Things opened up for me after that meeting, giving me the opportunity to combine my years of mindfulness practice and experience working in developmental services. I have continued to lead the mindfulness work at the CAMH Azrieli Adult Neurodevelopmental Centre for caregivers, autistic adults, and persons with disabilities. It is really a sweet spot for me in my career, connecting to values that drive me.

Tell us about the mindfulness sessions you are hosting with CAMH and CCCE. For whom are they intended?

Between now and the new year, we are offering three virtual mindfulness sessions for caregivers and care providers. Specifically, we have programs for caregivers of people with neurodevelopmental disabilities, leaders, and management professionals in the developmental services (DS) sector and care providers (i.e., front-life professionals) in the DS sector. We will offer similar sessions for broader groups of caregivers in the winter and beyond.

What can participants expect from the program?

Our team at CAMH developed the curriculum with Lee Steele and Amy Baskin – caregiver advisors who are family members of autistic adults. The virtual sessions give participants many accessible tools to incorporate into their daily lives. We meditate together as a group and learn new practices each week. Between sessions, participants get to practice putting what they learned with audio meditation and an accompanying workbook.

There is a beautiful sense of welcome warmth and acceptance among participants, even when delivered virtually. We encourage people to participate in a way that is comfortable for them, with a camera on or off.

Past participants have told us that they felt renewed, developed new ways of being present, and realized how essential it is to put themselves first.

Why is it important to host different sessions for different audiences? How will the content be different from group to group?

There is a sense of belonging that emerges when the program is offered to unique communities. Caregivers and care providers have different experiences and needs. Offering these sessions to individualized communities honours the need for these spaces. We also collaborate with advisors with lived experiences to customize the content for each group.

What are the benefits of participating in the six-week programs?

Mindfulness is a path that offers many benefits! Past participants have told us that they have a new love for mindfulness as a major part of their lives. Some have shared that they sleep better and experience more enjoyment in life. Some also shared that the loved one they provide care to noticed a new-found calm in their caregiver and can relax along with them. Everyone is happier!

Findings from research of our program show that caregivers experience greater satisfaction in their caregiving relationships after practicing mindfulness. We also found that levels of stress lowered. I could discuss this for hours – it is such a wonderful topic!

Register for mindfulness sessions

Additional information about the programs, including how to register, are available on CCCE’s webpage. Follow the appropriate link below:

Additional mindfulness programs for caregivers and care providers will be offered throughout 2023.