Sunday, September 21, 2008


There is great, if sometimes subtle, power in the words we choose when we communicate.  This was brought home to me last spring when I attended a Compassion Fatigue workshop in Toronto.

I had been aware, for some time, of a grass roots movement among family caregivers to refer to themselves as carepartners rather than caregivers. The distinction is an important one.  It reminds us that, whenever possible, the care recipient should hold his or her own reins.  The locus of control belongs there, not with us. We who provide support and care, family or professional, are partners who need not and should not carry the reins for those who are capable of doing so themselves. (Not an easy task when a patient or client chooses a treatment plan with which we disagree  or when a loved one wants to get dressed on his or her own and the HandiDart is already waiting at the door!).

The care recipient's locus of control is not the only important consideration in using the term, carepartner.  Toward the end of the Compassion Fatigue workshop in Toronto, during a discussion of factors that build resilience to burnout and compassion fatigue, I mentioned the carepartner-caregiver distinction and wondered out loud whether changing the term would make as much difference to professionals as it does to family carepartners.   I noted that, for me, caregiver  elicits a physiological stress response whereas carepartner elicits a relaxation response. Others tried out their own reactions and agreed.  They found a lightness and relief in the word, carepartner, that wasn't there when they referred to themselves as caregivers. ("I'm just a partner.  I don't have to do and be everything.").

Try it out for yourself.  To begin with, you will probably find that the word feels awkward in your mouth and in your ears but its implicit idea of shared responsibility may give you some relief and some distance from what, at times, can seem like an overwhelming burden.

For myself, I will continue to use caregiver in the blog title so people can find it easily but I will now begin to use carepartner in the blog posts themselves.  Let me know what you think about this small, but perhaps, powerful, change in language.  



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