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Compassionate Storytelling Uncovers the Value of Caregiver Self-Care

Book of the Month: August 2015

Caregiving can raise challenging needs, and it can also cause complex feelings. Our book for August unveils the significance of emotional self-care.As seniors age or their health declines, caregivers juggle many emerging needs for their loved ones. Doctors might impart instructions for medications or post-operative care; therapists might demonstrate and teach safe practices to assist with activities of daily living. Not only can a caregiver’s role include medical, physical, and financial tasks, but he or she may also be counted on for emotional support.

Because balancing a loved one’s needs and their own can be a high-wire act all by itself, caregivers can sometimes respond by pushing their own feelings to the back burner. However, the emotional impact of caregiving can affect a person’s relationships with family, loved ones, and fellow caregivers. This month’s book allows caregivers to explore their own feelings by way of a familiar story.

Doctor of Psychology Barry J. Jacobs found his calling in helping families to cope with serious health problems, having gone through similar hardships at a formative age. His book, The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers, envelops the ‘seven basic psychological tasks’ that a caregiver will face throughout a loved one’s health journey (each receives its own chapter). The topics cover a broad range of the caregiving experience, such as accepting help, communicating and cooperating with siblings, managing expectations, preserving care for the other most important people in the caregiver’s life, and transitioning from curative support to end-of-life focus.

The main thread of the book is a tale of two adult sisters caring for their ailing mother. Importantly, this isn’t a true account of any one family; instead, Jacobs spins a fiction universal enough to stand in for common caregiver experiences and frustrations. In this way, the story functions as a parable, projecting thoughts and reactions onto all the characters so that a reader can see things from more than one perspective. Jacobs does break from storytelling to share gentle statistics and address the reader in a nonjudgmental manner, offering assurance that these complex and difficult feelings are normal, and nothing to be ashamed of. As a counterpoint to the generalized predicaments in the main story, highly specific caregiving issues are introduced in a Q&A format at end of each chapter.

The author’s combined approaches — putting transparent characters in common caregiving predicaments, providing reassurance about conflicting feelings, and giving exact advice about more complicated family dynamics — offer various opportunities for connection. Caregivers reading The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers are likely to recognize themselves in some of the descriptions, or might relate in some other way to Jacobs’s sympathetic counsel. For individuals coping with the stresses of caregiving, this book can be a forgiving lifeline to an essential (although overlooked) aspect of self-care.

The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers: Looking After Yourself and Your Family While Helping an Aging Parent
Barry J. Jacobs
Guilford Press
261 pages; $14.95