There is a toll to pay for those who care for the dying and the bereaved.
Or can carers decide whether to pay the toll?
Kenneth Doka PhD in his article Caring for the Carer: The Lessons of Research (2006, pp 4-7) suggests that unless you identify the risks, then caring for the dying or the bereaved can impact your own physical, psychological, social and spiritual wellbeing.
Carer’s as they listen, and travel the journey of grief with the dying or the bereaved, risk vicarious grief reactions or traumatisation (McCann and Pearlman (1990), cited in Doka, 2006, p.4).
Empathy and identification are the pathways to which, when a carer sits with a client, they experience anothers grief, but awaken grief within themselves. Although all people are different, we also have “common human developmental pathways, vulnerabilities and strivings” McWilliams 2004, p.34). Identification with another, leads to deeper empathetic understanding, and a whole body felt understanding .
This risk may be increased due to the length of the carer’s relationship with a client and their family, especially with the care for the dying client. This risk is multiplied when you care for a number of clients.
Doka refers to the work of Danai Papadatou PhD (2000, cited in Doka 2006, p.5.), who has proposed a model of health professionals grieving process. This model suggests a clear distinction in the process between carer grief and other grief – that is “carers have to simultaneously oscillate between containing their grief and experiencing that grief” (Doka, 2000, p.5). If carers don’t, they cannot maintain their work or their own health.
Counselling for carers is one way to increase awareness and validation of carer’s process, allow the experience of their grief and share that grief with a supportive other, and to highlight coping strategies which can be brought into being to mitigate the risks.
If you are a carer, and would like to share your grief experience with a counsellor who specialises in grief and bereavement work, make an appointment for counselling with Bronwyn at Your Path Psychotherapy and Counselling, in her rooms in Remuera, Auckland.
Doka, K.J. PhD. (2006) Caring for the Carer: The Lessons of Research. Grief Matters, Autumn 2006. Vol. 9:1, 4-7.
McWilliams, N. (2004) Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, A Practitioner’s Guide. The Guildford Press, New York.