New Thinking for Effective Caregiving: A Conversation Between an Occupational Therapist and a Caregiver’s Coach (Part 1)

July 21, 2010 at 7:55 am 1 comment

Family Wellness-

We all are touched by injury, illness or disability. At EmpowerAbility, LLC, we know that for a client, everyone in their immediate circle plays a role in how well they heal. Whether I’m completing a home assessment, or working directly with the client in Occupational Therapy, it’s not just about the client, it’s about everyone around that person. It’s making sure that the environmental modifications I’m recommending in the home work for everyone.

The time we spend is frequently an almost equal split between time with the family and time with the client. In OT, we have to simultaneously be aware of everyone’s capabilities, limitations, and expectations. One example was with a caregiver whose father had Alzheimer’s. OT was a lifesaver. We were able to pull the daughter aside and help her sidestep burnout, by giving her strategies that helped her complete daily living activities while emphasizing the positive aspects of care. We gave her strategies for communicating with her father that let her get back in touch her values and social relationship that underlie her caregiving role. We also found her local resources that provided respite care (giving caregivers that much needed break,) and also caregivers groups where she could talk with others who fully relate to the caregiving role.

Everywhere along the spectrum, from acute care to outpatient and home health Occupational Therapy settings, the families are involved.

So, Debra, you’re really talking about holistic wellness within the family system. Often the caregiver is the one left out of that picture because self-care can seem counter-intuitive from the caregiver’s perspective. Initially, there’s a sort of blindness caused by resisting what is happening, feeling they must “fix” the situation or their loved one.  “I’m trying to help my dad, to slow down his decline, and you’re suggesting that I focus on myself?!” That blindness prevents them from seeing their role in the bigger picture. Seeing caregiving with a broader view requires a new way of seeing for the caregiver. Once they ease up on their resistance and begin to accept that changes are normal and inevitable, they become freer to question, “What is My part in this?” And then they are more open to seeing the need for their own self-care.

So, caregiving is rife with unknowns and things that can’t be controlled. The one thing over which caregivers do have control is their own health and well-being. The family is a dynamic system—what one family member says, and how they are, effects the others. If I’m a caregiver experiencing a mood, it can infect others. If I’m letting myself get burned out, I’m not available to do the caregiving to which I’ve committed. So in order to do my best job, I am actually required to take care of myself, get the support I need, manage my emotions honestly and well. Selfcare is no longer a frill—it’s a necessity.

This topic of family dynamics is so rich, Debra. Are other ways in which you encounter and work with family dynamics? (to be continued)

—Holly Whiteside, caregiver’s coach & advocate, is author of “The Caregiver’s Compass: How to Navigate with Balance and Effectiveness Using Mindful Caregiving.” She invented Mindful Caregiving tools during her caregiving decade by applying to herself the life coaching principles that she had been teaching others. Find her book at, or learn more at Holly can be reached at

Entry filed under: Caregiving. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

Accessible Treehouses… you have one in your state? New Thinking for Effective Caregiving A Conversation Between an Occupational Therapist and a Caregiver’s Coach (Part 2)

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Care Giving  |  July 29, 2010 at 2:00 am

    Balancing your attention to an Alzheimer’s patient with care for the rest of your family is nothing short of a tightrope act. Care Giving


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