The job title of caregiver is both wonderfully accurate and incredibly imprecise. It’s accurate, of course, because it is decidedly literal: to give care. It describes, simply and exactly, the importance of the profession, and you understand instantly why so many people rely on it. To give care is to give a great gift.
But it is also imprecise; it’s hard to determine exactly what “care” means for any particular older adult. A caregiver wears a bewildering multiplicity of hats for any given patient on any given day, sometimes many all at once. They act like pharmacists, making sure the correct medicine is taken on time. They act like physical therapists, helping with OT and PT. They act like night nurses and gardeners and pet sitters. And, to a degree that often goes unrecognized, they act like therapists.
Bay Area Psychology Training for Caregivers
A caregiver may be the one to spend more time with their patient than anyone else, working 8 to 12-hour shifts, or more in the case of live-in caregivers. Due to proximity and friendship, they are often the recipient of fears, anxieties, regrets, hopes, dreams, and the whole rushing swirl of emotions that come with aging and approaching the end of one’s life.
Enormous empathy is a requirement for this role, but sometimes even one’s deep wellsprings of care and compassion aren’t enough. To truly excel at the almost inevitable role of counselor or confessor, some caregivers in the Bay Area find they need specialized psychology training. Thankfully, there are programs available specifically designed to help caregivers in aiding their patients through the difficult moments, an unavoidable part of life’s journey.
One of the most inspiring things about living in the Bay Area is that, thanks to the work of many dedicated local groups and individuals, attitudes about aging are changing, beginning to the reflect the truth that aging is natural, and to be enjoyed as another stepping stone in life’s journey. Because of that shift, a wealth of resources to help not just older adults but also the caregivers who make their lives better is now available. Here are a few opportunities that caregivers can take advantage of in the greater San Francisco area.
Community College and Continued Education
California has one of the nation’s finest community college systems, helping to promote its promise of education for everyone. The Bay Area has over a dozen community colleges alone, as well as some of the nation’s finest institutions of learning. Whether you enroll in a degree program or take individual classes to improve your knowledge, you’re helping your career and your patients.
But what to study? Some ideas for classes, offered throughout the state or as individual courses, include:
- Geropsychology: This field specifically deals with the psychology of aging. This includes anxiety, mental health disorders, age-related illnesses, and the mental and emotional issues that come with getting older. It’s a broad category, and can be specified to include many different subsets.
- The Psychology of Disability: For many older adults, losing control over the body, and possibly their independence and dignity as well, can be one of the most wrenching parts of aging. It changes the perception of self, and with that change in perception comes attitude changes. Being aware of what disability and loss of control means, psychologically speaking, allows caregivers insight into what their patients are going through, and how to help them recognize that they are still themselves. Knowledge of this growing field will support caregivers as they shepherd the aging adults they care for into new chapters of their lives.
- Family Dynamics and Caregiving: Any caregiver can tell you that negotiating family dynamics can often be the most difficult part of their job. Relatives are overwhelmed with grief, with guilt, with fear, with sadness, and with stress. Many caregivers also face misplaced, if understandable, resentment about their roles in a loved one’s life. A broader knowledge of family dynamics, and how to handle and defuse them, makes everyone’s lives much better.
- End of Life Psychology: This is on everyone’s mind as they age: what does it mean to die? What did it mean to live? There are obviously no real answers, but being able to talk about the issues in honest and frank ways, allowing the patient to explore their thoughts clearly and without being made to feel bad, or being told that they “shouldn’t think such thoughts,” is an important aspect of the caregiver’s role. It’s may be the most challenging aspect, but perhaps the most important as well.
And, don’t forget to see if you are eligible for financial aid.
After all, it’s everyday life that really matters. As a caregiver, you may have patients who are struggling with a new reality, unsure how to continue to live their lives in the midst of so many changing and uncertain moments. They might sink into depression, or may lash out. They will almost certainly have questions about the end of life. They may want to discuss their regrets as a way of spiritual examination, or just exfoliation. They want a hand to hold as they explore new worlds.
Or, they may be perfectly happy in the new world, recognizing that aging isn’t a punishment, but a sign of still being alive, simply wanting a companion and a friend. This might also change from day to day. But no matter what, the caregiver is always going to be put in the role of counselor, confessor, spiritual guide, sometimes object of venting, and, more often than not, listening post. Having the right psychology training means you can more deeply fulfill your role as someone who offers the greatest service: care.
Institute on Aging offers a wide range of programs, services, and online resources to help older adults and their caregivers live independently, with dignity and adventure. Get in touch with us today to learn more.