Dr Robert Heaven
MBACP (Accred), UKRC, Pg.Dip Psych Couns, D.A, M.Sc, M.A
BACP Accredited Psychotherapist
Emotional Health & Well Being Advisor to Helping Hands Live-In Care Specialists.
It’s a good question, and what does it take to provide good care for another human-being, disadvantaged in some way by age, ailment or ability? The quick answer is that it takes a certain level of training, skill and an ability to connect on an inter-personal level. All very well, but “what is it that makes a really good carer”?
Someone once said that “often the best caregiving is about being with more than doing for.” Being with, meaning getting alongside the other person in an emotionally connected way, rather than simply being present.
Helping Hands care givers provide a day to day presence by actually living with their customers. But there’s more to it than this. Helping Hands carer’s take time to emotionally connect with their customers and in doing so provide that extra something, that marks them as being really good carers rather than being simply “good”.
It’s important here to make the definition that in a caring context, “emotional connection” means connecting with a customer within very clear boundaries. It always has to be remembered that a customer is not a friend, but rather a person with whom there exists a professionally based Contract that has to be strictly adhered to. In this context it’s clear that there are things that can be shared between a carer and a customer (and vice versa) but there are certain things and feelings which cannot be shared. For example; the carer might feel particularly isolated and wants to talk about it.
It’s a customer’s prerogative to share a lot about what and how they feel, but not the opposite way around. Mrs Smith for example, might want to talk about the way she feels lonely, but the carer should not discuss similar feelings. If doing so the carer risks unduly influencing or upsetting the way the customer thinks and acts towards them. Carers therefore are expected to establish an emotional connection but to a degree, self censure some of what they might think and feel.
In his theory of human needs (1954) Abraham Maslow determined that all humans have five levels of need by which to establish their existence in the world. This is not the place to discuss this theory, other than to say that the first two levels relate to Physiological and Safety needs (food, shelter etc). The third level however is of interest, as it relates to what Maslow calls “Love & Belonging“ i.e. the need to feel acceptance, belonging, and community.
Helping Hands aim is that Customers are able to find some measure of feeling “Love and Belonging” from what’s provided by their carer’s ability to be a good listener and communicator. Carer’s on the other hand have to balance their need for acceptance, belonging and community by a combination of what they legitimately get from sharing and talking with the customer and by what they gain from their external connections. For example – Mrs Smith shares her thoughts with her carer Jenny about her interest in knitting, and Jenny who also knits, enjoys this conversation and so they both gain from this. Jenny however has other needs such the need to talk about a relationship with her boyfriend which is perhaps strained by her present situation. In this situation Jenny gains a feeling of acceptance and a sense of belonging by calling a friend she made on the Helping Hands training course. In summary, the carer lives in the life of another person whilst internally negotiating and managing the needs of their own life.
Really good carers maintain both sides of the emotional needs split. The customer side is perhaps the easiest part, while the carer side is made more difficult by the live-in situation. In terms of the customer part much of this is achieved by good carer core skills such as the use of appropriate body language, empathic listening and communicating using a good deal of open questions to encourage the customer to share thoughts and feelings. An example might be where the carer sits with the customer and shares a cup of tea together whilst asking something like “I was wondering Mrs Smith what you feel about … (latest episode of a TV programme, an aspect of sport, hobby etc) .
The hard part for carers is the need to take care of the part of their lives which is not governed by their customer Contract. i.e. the intimate-connections they have with the outside world. What is easy when living outside of being a Helping Hands carer in terms of being able to maintain links and contact with friends, family, hobby groups, faith groups etc, becomes more difficult when living in another person’s home with restrictions on what can and cannot be done or said.
Good carers are those that take care of their personal needs by continuing to maintain their Social networks through sites such as Facebook , texting, phone calls etc, in their off duty hours on their personal phones and computers. The mark of a really good carer however is the ability to do this while all the while balancing their own needs with their customer’s needs to be emotionally connected.