If you work and also care for an elderly or ill relative, each day can feel like a struggle. If you are not the working caregiver yourself, you may have a colleague or employee who is struggling to balance these roles. Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) can help employees get a start on finding the support they need – especially if they seek assistance before the real problems begin.
The current economic climate has drastically increased the pressures faced by many of today’s working caregivers, according to Susan Cook, LCSW, a board certified psychiatric social worker based in Stamford, Connecticut. With companies cutting jobs, those who do hold on to their positions are expected to do the work of two people. In fear of the next round of layoffs, workers will do all they can to prove their worth, whatever the extra hours or tasks may be.
When caregiver stress becomes unbearable for employees, they may lash out in anger at their co-workers – a reaction Cook says is familiar in her work as an EAP counselor. In extreme situations such as these, the employee suffering from caregiver stress may be required to attend counseling to address anger management issues – or risk losing their job.
Being aware of some early stress symptoms may help caregivers to recognize when it’s time to get help. Cook reports that “the first signs of caregiver stress may be backache, headache, stomach pains or gastrointestinal complaints, or other somatic symptoms.”
Caregivers need to stay attuned to their bodies and feelings in order to understand when stress is starting to compromise their health. According to Judith M. Charles M.Ed., NCC, LPC, a Connecticut counselor working with employee groups, depression and fatigue are serious hazards for caregivers.
Unfortunately, caregivers often think they can handle all of their challenges on their own. Ms. Charles points out that “some caregivers confuse self-care with being selfish.” The truth, she says, is that “caregivers who put their own needs first have more energy and more of themselves to give.”
“Caregivers need to make a care program for themselves”, insists Ms. Charles. This is easier said than done, especially when the caregiver is an adult child of the person who needs care. That parent-child relationship, like other close relationships, can impede a caregiver’s ability to find a healthy balance. “The caregiver’s reaction to their role may be to over-compromise their own needs in favor of the parent’s needs.”
Caregivers also need to become their own advocates, says Ms. Charles. “They can help themselves by remembering that their caregiving role is important -- to their families and to society. Participation in a caregiver’s support group can be valuable. Hearing from others who share their situation can be a healing experience for caregivers.”
Other caregivers may be helped through individual, one-on-one counseling. Susan Cook explains that EAPs generally give employees between one and six sessions with a counselor. Once those sessions are complete, the patient must work with their insurance company to set up ongoing counseling. She points out that most people do need more help than is provided by the allotted EAP sessions, so setting up continuing care through insurance is usually necessary. Also, once a person starts working with their EAP counselor, they often prefer to stay with the same counselor. Employees who feel that they want to continue with their EAP counselor can check with their insurance company to see if that counselor is in their program network.
Cook emphasizes that counseling provided by EAPs is entirely confidential. Many employees don’t realize that they can get this confidential help, even when the employer sets up counseling through an EAP. This misconception can lead to caregivers going without the help they need.
Neither Charles nor Cook are hired directly by the companies whose employees they are available to help. They work through EAPs when companies contract with an EAP provider or healthcare organization, which then finds appropriate local counselors to make available through the EAP.
By taking advantage of their employers’ EAPs, working caregivers can find a source of private inquiry and support. Every caregiver has a different situation and unique obstacles to overcome. A professional counselor who understands their difficulties can be the first step toward designing helpful solutions.
Kim Harke is a health care technical writer specializing in compliance. She holds a Master’s in history from New York University.