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Ratford Retreat Weekend – From Surviving to Thriving in the NHS

I cannot quite remember how I came across the Ratford Retreat Centre but I think it was on a google hunt after the meditation retreat that I had attended pre-Covid was fully booked until later in the year.

Burn out is common in medicine, it is not often recognised and its warning signs commonly ignored. As healthcare professionals we are not always equipped or trained to deal with the stressors that come with the job and are left to figure it out when we have already reached breaking point.

During my medical career to date I have had to pick myself up after reaching several breaking points. Time out of medicine to reflect, counselling, working part time, meditation retreats, they have all helped in recharging, rebuilding and getting me to a place where I am happy in my job and look forward to work….currently! I am all too aware that things can and do change so I am always keen to learn and try different events or practices that may help in reaching and keeping me satisfied and content at work.

The Ratford Retreat is run by Derek and Sandy (and Bramble, their dog!), both retired doctors previously based in London and now living in Wiltshire at their beautiful home where the retreat is held. It started on a Friday early evening and finished on a Sunday late afternoon. Accommodation was in their converted barn and was modern and comfortable. Talks and discussions, as well our morning stretches, were held in the chapel. Silent morning walks, quiet time and outdoor activities were on their 9 acre site set in beautiful nature. All food was catered for by Sandy – all vegetarian and all tasty, some of the produce coming straight from their vegetable plot.

My fellow participants included GPs, a psychiatry trainee and a F1 doctor, in total there were 7 of us on this retreat. Friday evening after dinner, we started our discussions with thinking about our intentions for the weekend. We looked at early warning signs of feeling stressed and how stress impacts on ourselves, patient care and on our colleagues. We were then shown and practiced the exercise of diaphragmatic breathing. The concept of a Transitional Pause was discussed, a mindful practice in noting one’s physical, emotional and cognitive presence, followed by mindful breathing and setting one’s ongoing intention.

On Saturday we started with morning stretches followed by time outdoors in silence. After breakfast there were talks about our potential stressors at work followed by a listening exercise in pairs. We discussed other exercises and ways to express our thoughts and feelings and also explored the concept of Drains (things that drain you) and Radiators (things that nourish you). Later in the afternoon we participated in various outdoor activities that included tending to the flower garden, the vegetables or any other outdoor projects Derek had going on. There was time in the evening to socialise a bit more and relax in each other’s company.

On Sunday we started again with morning stretches and silent time outdoors. Prior to the retreat we were asked to complete a questionnaire highlighting our positive attributes and strengths, and we talked about building on those. We discussed about setting boundaries and learning to say no, to also not taking on someone else’s “monkey” and talks about self-compassion. A yoga session had been organised with a local yoga teacher and the weather permitted us to have this outdoors in the sunny garden grounds. In the afternoon we went for a walk around the local area, half of which we decided to do in silence, giving us all some time to contemplate the weekend’s events and discussions. Our last session focused on committing to changes going forward as well saying our goodbyes and messages of appreciation to one another.

Derek and Sandy have created a space that is safe and supported. It enables participants to feel at ease and to share difficult emotions, feelings and thoughts. The retreat might not immediately fix the problems we face, but it does enable one to step back and see what changes in our lives and our mind-set we can make to empower a sense of control.

All in all, I enjoyed the weekend away. There was time and space to reflect, to learn and to share from one another. There was good company, good food and beautiful nature to appreciate. Thank you to Derek, Sandy and Bramble for the vision in creating and hosting this retreat.

The retreat is run on a non-profit basis and is (at the time of writing) £130 per person. The Ratford Retreat also runs retreats for medical students as well.

For more information please visit: Retreats and courses — Ratford Retreat Centre


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