Tips for Supporting Family Members and Caregivers
“The caregiving journey can be like a whitewater rafting experience. Some days you find yourself navigating extreme rapids, while other days you find yourself in a stretch of water that offers temporary relief and an opportunity to catch your breath,” explains Beth Ayn Stansfield, MEd (she/her/hers), National Family Advocate for ERC Pathlight.
These twists and turns can lead to a phenomenon known as caregiver burnout—a state of physical, emotional and/or mental exhaustion caused by long-term stress. In fact, 36% of caregivers report a high degree of emotional stress and 23% say they find it difficult to take care of their own health, according to a recent national report.1
“You may notice that a caregiver shows signs of fatigue, hopelessness or frustration whether spoken or unspoken,” says Maggie Moore, MA, LMFT (she/her/hers), National Family Outreach Manager at ERC Pathlight. “The caregiver may also become frustrated with the process and stop following recommendations. That can look like lack of motivation when it’s really burnout.”
Validate the Caregiver
An effective approach for clinicians is to speak with caregivers and family members with empathy, Moore advises. “You can acknowledge what the caregiver is doing is really hard and that their feelings are understandable,” she explains. “Right now, their loved one may not be able to express their appreciation for all that’s being done for them, but you as a therapist can validate and thank the caregiver.”
Suggest that caregivers and family members create their own time to explore their feelings, either in one-to-one or group therapy, Moore advises.
Stress the Importance of Self-Care
“Because of the unique challenges facing caregivers, they often find themselves with little to no time to add one more thing to their day, so self-care takes a back seat,” Stansfield says. “But self-care is as essential as charging your phone.”
That starts with committing to the basic self-care strategies of getting enough sleep, establishing regular meals, staying connected with trusted friends and committing to their own appointments.
“Along with the basics, adding one small distraction each day can cumulatively create additional energy to navigate the day-to-day demands of caregiving,” Stansfield says. “Caregivers can dedicate even as little as ten minutes to an activity of their choosing—something that in the past brought them enjoyment.”
Provide Additional Resources
In addition to one-to-one or group therapy, clinicians can direct caregivers and family members to a free, informative, six-part video series on caregiving skills from ERC Pathlight at www.EatingRecovery.com/Video/Caregiver-Skills-Welcome. Free family and caregiver support groups are also offered by ERC Pathlight.
“Once caregivers are in the habit of practicing self-care,” Stansfield says, “it won’t be long before they realize the positive impact on their own life and in their ability to better support their loved one.”
ERC PATHLIGHT CAN HELP
ERC Pathlight emphasizes the importance of self-care to families and friends during and after a loved one’s treatment. As part of its comprehensive approach, all treatment plans include education and support rooted in emotion-focused family therapy (EFFT), which includes coaching in expressing emotions, working through behaviors and symptoms, and repairing relationships.
Learn more about Eating Recovery At Home and Pathlight At Home, our virtual intensive outpatient programs for eating disorders and mood and anxiety disorders. Available and accessible across the nation, these programs are covered in-network by most commercial insurance plans.
- AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving (May 2020). Caregiving in the United States 2020. Washington, D.C. AARP.
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