The Importance of Counseling for Caregiver Burnout

Caregivers are in a unique position to provide care for the physical, mental and spiritual needs of parents and other loved ones. However, who cares for the caregiver's needs? Caregiving is a mentally and physically demanding task (and often thankless) that takes its toll, not only in aching muscles and bones, but also in the psyche and spirit. Understanding the need for counseling, when necessary, helps caregivers to maintain quality of care and positive outlooks when charged with another's care.

Many caregivers go through periods of burnout, depression, and frustration. These are normal human responses. Feeling them does not in any way mean that a caregiver is inadequate. Most caregivers pour their heart and soul into their task, and the emotional toll can sometimes be quite devastating.

When asked about signs of caregiver "burnout" or stress, Shawn Hertz, of the Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center says, "They become more resentful… there are quite a few red flags, and they cut across medical symptoms, physical symptoms, psychological symptoms and social symptoms. That's the important thing to remember about stress: it doesn't just affect one aspect of our lives. It affects all the major aspects of our lives that make us a whole person."

Caregivers who receive regular emotional support are much more apt to be able to handle difficult decisions, situations, and to help clarify needs of care receivers. Whether such emotional support is personal, through one-on-one contact with a supervisor, counselor, religious member of the community, or group support, the availability of counseling may prove invaluable to maintaining high-quality care.

Why Counseling is a Necessity for Caregivers

Caring for loved ones often brings caregivers a great sense of accomplishment, but at times, overwhelming demands may affect a caregiver's physical condition, in addition to many other aspects of their life. It is not uncommon for caregivers to occasionally feel anger, frustration, and then grow anxious or guilty for those feelings.

One of the most devastating effects of the demands of caregiving, however, is depression. The Family Caregiver Alliance has estimated that nearly 20 percent of family caregivers suffer from some form of depression, and that over 40 percent of caregivers of Alzheimer's patients suffer from mild to moderate stages of depression during and after extended periods of care.

Of course, not all caregivers will suffer from depression, anxiety, or feelings of inadequacy, but for those who do, learning how to understand and address those feelings is one of the greatest benefits of counseling.

Being able to confide in someone about emotions or frustrations often helps to head off depression and feelings of confinement in many caregivers. The responsibilities of caring for a family member, especially one suffering from various stages of Alzheimer's, can feel like a jail sentence to many. This has nothing to do with how much someone loves their family member, but with the constant and needy demands of those suffering from it.

Counseling for caregivers comes in many different shapes and forms. For some, participating in Family Counseling is a great way to share feelings of inadequacy, stress and frustration. Others do better in individual therapy sessions, where they feel they can truly vent without feeling guilty.

These support services are offered through professional therapists, support groups, and one-on-one discussions with friends or other family members. Remember, skilled therapists can elicit insight and enhance communication between family members in all types of caregiving situations. Other forms of counseling may be found through respite care opportunities and different professional care providers, such as hospice.

Counseling Options and Opportunities

Ignoring feelings of grief, frustration or anger when dealing with home care situations will not help either the caregiver or the care receiver. Understanding that a wide range of human emotions regarding short or long-term care scenarios are normal goes a long way toward relieving such emotions in those dealing with them.

The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that caregivers try to find someone they can talk to or confide in. In this way, more than one pair of shoulders can share the emotional burden of care, regardless of scenario. In addition, if a caregiver experiences changes in eating or sleeping habits, or loses interest in aspects of life or activities they used to take pleasure in, seek help. Don't wait, expecting that things will change in a few days. Often times, days have a way of turning into weeks, and then months.

Coping Strategies for Cargivers

"It's important to set limits," says Donna Benton, a geropsychologist at the University of Southern California. "Caregivers often do not set boundaries." Saying no to ever-growing requests and expectations is one of the best things that a stressed out caregiver can do for themselves and their families. A caregiver needs to be able to express their needs and be very specific." Everyone needs a break once in a while. This is nothing to feel inadequate or guilty about.

Don't expect to be able to do everything. Setting realistic goals and breaking large tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks often helps to relieve the stress of trying to get everything done in a short period of time. Various coping strategies are suggested for all caregivers, especially those caring for victims suffering from various stages of Alzheimer's.

Strategies to Learn and Apply

  • Learn to say "no"
  • Try to maintain a sense of humor
  • Realize your physical and emotional limitations
  • Make your health a priority

If you decide that talking with a professional is the way to go, you can check with your health insurance company for a list of providers that are covered under your plan. In addition, check with your Area Agency on Aging (it's listed in your local phone book) to see if there are resources they recommend.

Discussing the emotional as well as physical challenges of providing quality care for your loved one with friends, family members, family counselors or religious figures is vital to long-term health, emotional stability and peace of mind. While a caregiver is focused on providing loving care for a parent, a spouse, or other member of the family, don't forget to take care of yourself in the process.

Denise Clark has written about health and medical issues, including caring for seniors. She has experience as a certified nursing assistant who has worked a long-term care facility for geriatric residents.

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