Can a Counselor Help?

Can a Counselor Help?

Nothing, but nothing, takes the place of personally experiencing the emotional trauma of caring for a loved one. Well-seasoned caregivers find they are always on duty, but more often than not, the necessary emotional rest and refill is oddly lacking.

The essential replenishment of what caregivers pour out can be achieved in several ways, but seeing a professional therapist or counselor is among the best. As caregivers fulfill their all-consuming obligations in a committed, self-sacrificing manner, their physical and mental health are suspended mid-air like a papier-mache pinata. The caregiver takes hit after emotional hit due to the aging/ailing loved one’s continual care needs, shifting moods, situational demands and personal frustrations. Eventually the pinata will break, and everything inside—not the candy and treats of a child’s party, but strong feelings like hopelessness, anger and grief—will gush out leaving a tattered, broken shell to swing back and forth, slower and slower until the energy imparted by the beating is completely spent.

When I was a new caregiver, trying to process my own disjoined thoughts and raw emotions made me realize I needed help making sense of it all. I scheduled an appointment to see a counselor at my church named Vivian Holmes. Sitting in her comfortable, peaceful office, I began explaining the situation in which I found myself. Before long, it was as if a dam had burst, and the space of her office became flooded by my words:

“’I’m twenty-nine years, old,’ I blurted out. ‘At twenty-nine, ordinary people are looking forward. I just got married. I’m at the beginning of everything, but I’ve been suddenly thrust into [my grandparents’] reality, and now everything looks like it’s just going to…to end. It’s like life is over; everything is paused and still and waiting.’

‘What do you feel like you’re waiting for?’ Vivian asked gently.

I stared blankly for a few seconds, and then I looked straight into her eyes. ‘We’re going to die. Not today, maybe, but it’s where we’re headed.’

…Vivian just waited silently until my gaze met hers.

‘…You’re experiencing a great loss that’s coming in stages, and it’s left you devastated. Your feelings are perfectly normal….’”

Excerpt from Goodnight, Sweet: A Caregiver’s Long Goodbye, Chapter 14 “Vivian”

Vivian metaphorically came alongside me, giving me encouragement and hope that I would make it through the storm. In a practical way, she prayed over me and walked me through strategies I could use to get through the really tough times. Little by little, her voice of reason cleared away the confusion; her smile warmed me, and the squeeze of her hand energized me to continue the journey.  Time with Vivian was a precious gift.

The help offered by a good counselor should never be underestimated; the benefits are abundant.

Vent Your Frustration

The counselor’s office is a “safe” place to express some of the negative feelings caregivers experience. It’s imperative to acknowledge and deal with those negative emotions; multiple studies have shown that attempting to avoid our genuine emotions causes physical stress on the body which can affect blood pressure and lead to problems with memory, anxiety and depression. One study from the University of Texas discovered that when we do not acknowledge our emotions, we actually make them stronger.

Feel Less Isolated

By sharing what you’re experiencing, you can read the counselor’s expression of sympathy and compassion as they nod their head along with your narrative. When they ask you questions, you get a sense that someone is genuinely interested in what’s going on with you. Just knowing there’s time set aside to talk it out can bring peace of mind, particularly during the rough patches.

New Coping Strategies

Vivian helped me see that even though my grandparents were on the last leg of their earthly journey, I needed to treasure the time I had with them rather than prematurely focusing on their deaths. She explained the way to do that was to hug them, hold their hands and talk with them in the “here and now”—whether they seemed cognizant or not. She made it clear that I could enter their world and make them comfortable where they were rather than always grieving because they weren’t aware of the real world around us. It gave me a fresh perspective on their remaining years.

A lot of churches have counseling departments, but even if they don’t it’s still possible you could meet with one of the pastors on staff. Many employee health benefits include psychological counseling, and may provide access to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) as well. Reaching out for help doesn’t bring shame, it provides a great potential for emotional relief.


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