New Thinking for Effective Caregiving: A Conversation Between an Occupational Therapist and a Caregiver Coach (Part 3)

August 4, 2010 at 6:18 am Leave a comment

Training Family Reinterpretation  (continued from Learned Helplessness, Part 2)

This idea of reinterpretation comes up often during caregiver coaching sessions. What other kinds of reinterpretation crop up in your work with clients?

Debra: Well, Holly, it can come up in the way a family member talks about their loved one’s condition. From a medical perspective, I may be working with a client in the kitchen to functionally walk with their mobility device to retrieve items from the cabinets and refrigerator for meal-prep.  The family will say, She’s not walking! I have to counter, No, she’s walking, but she’s doing it differently.  We need to help the family to see the picture differently, to reinterpret what is happening.

Or if someone has had a stroke, and one side has some paralysis, a family member will say, That’s the bad hand” or “bad side.” We have to help them to see that there’s no such thing as good or bad, it’s always a matter of degree of functionality.

Oh yes, the words caregivers use directly impact their own peace of mind and that of their loved ones. In my book, “The Caregiver’s Compass,” a main focus is noticing the words one is using, and then switching them to words that are more empowering. The theory is called “action language,” the idea that language doesn’t just describe reality, it creates it. Speaking is an action that generates your experience of your world. Self-talk is an example. But in life, we don’t live in isolation, so we’re like fish swimming in a goldfish bowl—what we say also creates realities or meanings for those around us. A daughter saying to her dad, “You’re not walking!” as he’s inching forward on his walker, is not helpful. It’s disempowering. When I run into someone negative, I’ve been known to say, “Stop pooping in the fishbowl!”

—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


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New Thinking for Effective Caregiving A Conversation Between an Occupational Therapist and a Caregiver’s Coach (Part 2) Summer 2010: Accessible Camping, or not….

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