When a person is ill, it’s normal that attention is focused on taking care of their needs, both physical and emotional. Yet often, caregivers are left to wage their own internal battles and process unresolved feelings from all the pain, loss and injustices they witness.
This was the topic at hand Tuesday when I met up with an old and dear friend Jill Morris, of Choiceworks, and Simon Fox of Adventures in Caring. As a board member, Jill’s assisting Adventures in Caring with a new DVD project aimed at helping caregivers take better care of themselves as well as those they comfort. Simon called it “compassion fatigue,” and I knew right away what that meant.
I loved the idea immediately. As we talked, it became so clear how Attitude Reconstruction (and in particular, giving caretakers permission to honor their emotions and handle them physically and constructively) was essential to really recover from the pain they experience. Simon drank up the information I offered, and I could tell is deeply resonated.
I have a quote in my book: when traveling on an airplane, one has to affix his/her oxygen mask before helping others. Simon used this example before it even came out of my mouth. It’s so true, but so hard in practice, especially for those working with the suffering or elderly or for most women I see in my office. It’s a challenge to get them to remember, “My job is to take care of myself “– one of Attitude Reconstructions very most popular truths.
If you haven’t heard of Adventures in Caring, it’s an organization born out of Karen Fox’s personal experience over 20 years ago, when she donned a Raggedy Ann outfit and stepped in a hospital to offer comfort after her own illness.
The caregivers (often pre-med students and volunteers) are taught a strategy based on a communication model that outlines “Four elements of compassion:”
ATTENTION – which means listen and become aware of what is important to the patient;
ACKNOWLEDGMENT – which is really offering genuine respect and appreciation;
AFFECTION – which is human touch, humor, and friendliness;
ACCEPTANCE – which means allow things to unfold so there is permission for them to speak freely.
According to Attitude Reconstruction, all four elements that provide the foundation for the caregivers are related to the emotion of LOVE, so I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that what they are doing is monumental. This program/approach is needed in every hospital across the country.
If you want further information, their website is www.AdventuresinCaring.org