On the assessment form the social service agency I used to work for used to judge a caregiver's level of stress, there's a section about how the person perceives his or her caregiving role. As that section is written, I found it fairly useless for my purposes as a family consultant but it occurred to me the other day that the topic in general is actually quite significant. You see, how a person thinks of themselves in relationship to family caregiving determines how they interpret what happens in that experience and, subsequently, how they respond.

For example, when you think about your caregiving situation, do you think of yourself as a prisoner? If so, your patient or the other family members you think cast you into this role must look like jailers. Within such a perspective every additional caregiving task becomes a symbol of oppression, family interactions become battlegrounds, and caregiving is nothing more than a nightmare to somehow survive.

But what would happen if you changed your perspective? I've met other caregivers who thought of their caregiving as a mission from God. One person even told me that he believed his life was saved from a near fatal heart attack so he could come back and provide assistance for his wife. For him, every new caregiving task was further evidence of how important and needed he was and provided him with yet another opportunity to show his love and devotion. He was proud of his mission and was doing everything he could -- including calling me for respite assistance -- so he could do God's work and be of service to his wife until the day she died. What a contrast!

Most people I meet fall somewhere in the middle of these two ends of the spectrum and many change their perspectives from day to day depending on how they feel or how well their own needs are being met. It's become really clear to me that I can't work with a caregiver well unless I know what mindset they are living in.

My greatest joy as a family consultant is when I can help a person step outside of a life-limiting perspective and choose a more empowering approach. Nobody has to be a prisoner -- on some level caregiving is always a choice. When someone feels like a prisoner it's because they don't want to face the consequences of breaking out of jail. Someone will be mad at them or they might feel guilty if they back away from the job, they might have to put their relative into a nursing home or use resources to pay for in-home care the caregiver was hoping to keep for themselves. There's always something the person doesn't want to face. . . but it's always a choice!

Very often, there isn't anything a caregiver really wants to do to change their situations when they consider the alternatives but they can always change their point of view. "I'm not a prisoner --I chose this life and if I want to change it, I'll just face what I don't want to face and do it !"

Author's Bio: 

Sheryl Karas is spiritual counselor in private practice with her partner Paul Hood. ( http://www.healingcommunication.com ) She once worked as a Family Consultant for the Alzheimer's Association and a state sponsored caregiver resource center in Santa Cruz, CA. This article is an excerpt from her book, "The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving", available directly from the author at www.healingcommunication.com/myproducts/spiritualcare.html .