The "Caring for the Caregiver: Developing and Creating an Empathy-Based Relief Concept in Caregiving" (empCARE) project is funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for 42 months. REHACARE.com asked Marius Deckers about the psychological stress caregivers are faced with and the reasons behind it.
Mr. Deckers, the empCARE project includes four project partners. Who is responsible for what?
Marius Deckers: The project is primarily managed by the University of Duisburg-Essen. Our other three project partners are located at various other sites. This includes the University Hospitals of Cologne and Bonn as well as an ambulatory care service called "Die Mobile" (English: Mobile Services). Our University is in charge of the scientific research and theoretical framework of the project. Both of the University Hospitals conduct practical training for caregivers. The associates of the "Die Mobile" care services also participate during the sessions. Altogether, we are currently training approximately 400 caregivers at the Cologne and Bonn locations. We regularly offer block schedules and coaching sessions for up to 18 participants that take place over two days.
The project aims to reduce the psychological stress of caregivers. What types of stressors are they confronted with?
Deckers: We want to show caregivers a different way to deal with empathy. We have developed a theory here at the University of Duisburg-Essen that states that the proper use of empathy towards patients in need of care is key.
Patients face serious illnesses for instance and are close to death, for example. This also presents a challenge for caregivers. Patients ask questions like, "Do you think I will get out of here alive?". This question is emotionally taxing for the caregivers. People subsequently tend to issue a hyper-empathic response and say things like, "Chin up, you will be fine." These gestures are of a positive nature and well-intended, but they don’t help the patients which is obvious to the caregivers and leaves them with an uneasy feeling. Yet they still want to help, which spurs the empathetic response. Since they know their statements won’t change the actual situation, this occupational group experiences psychological stress in the long run. We want to teach caregivers alterative empathetic responses, so the communication between them and the patients can go beyond the patient's current situation. Communication is meant to be efficient and effective to where associates are able to assist people in need of care and avoid hyper-empathic responses and not cause chronic psychological stress on the part of the nursing staff.