fall 2013

Caregivers, Caregiving and Emotional Intelligence

...continued from previous page.

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Satisfaction vs. Fatigue

Dr. Hadar-Pecker found that those professionals with a higher degree of EI were able to avoid compassion fatigue and were more successful in experiencing "compassion satisfaction."

How do caregivers view their caregiving? Dr. Hadar-Packer received a range of answers, but by and large they divided into two very broad categories. "Some psychologists, for example," Dr. Hadar-Packer explained, "looked at their caregiving as walking hand-in-hand with their patients, a profession that they love, a feeling of skipping through a pond, while others described it as exhausting, absorbing, all encompassing, a crawl through a dark tunnel, even sisyphean in nature."

What differentiated them, according to Dr. Hadar-Pecker, was the degree of their Emotional Intelligence. "Those with a higher degree of EI were able to avoid compassion fatigue and more successful in experiencing compassion satisfaction."

EI is the seminal element in their ability not only to experience satisfaction, but also in their capabilities as caregivers.

"Only those caregivers with a high level of EI were able to counteract the exposure to negative elements with positive elements." As one psychologist explained to Dr. Hadar-Peker, "the fact that I have the ability to feel the situation more deeply does not worry me, because I also have the ability to moderate and balance it."

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A Meaningful Circle

"In a certain way," says Dr. Hadar-Pecker "EI is a tool that tells [the professionals] it's okay to feel something deeply because you are doing something that is meaningful and valuable, and as a result it helps the treatment programs. It becomes a kind of circle."

The study found that "to become a rehabilitation psychologist," as one participant explained, "is to choose a profession that is extreme….where the issues are exceedingly powerful. Every psychologist wants to be in a place where he is important, where he is needed and depended upon." This feeling is joined by a number of other emotions: experiencing personal growth, having the ability to influence and create, and a deep inner satisfaction.

These positive feelings have also impacted on their personal lives. One caregiver expressed, "Over the years, I learned that there is nothing I can't deal with". Another one in describing how he was better able to connect with his own emotions during the treatment program commented, "something in the variety of emotions grew in all directions."

An individual with a high EI is not, however, immune to the negative aspects of his profession: the stress, the day-to-day need to cope with difficult issues, the physical and emotional pain, and the constant, nearly ceaseless delivery of bad news.

"It's not just every day, it's all day and all night…it's ceaseless. It's a chain of activities that never stops, which impacts on your personal life and you have to decide if you want to erect boundaries or if you want to totally dedicate yourself to this all day, every day and every night…"

"But, an individual with a high EI," says Dr. Hadar-Pecker, "knows how to create a strategy to navigate through the negative aspects and balance them with the positive aspects." In the end, it's the patient who is the beneficiary. The more the caregiver is able to identify with and empathize with the patient, the better the treatment program.

A series of articles from this study are being published in Nefesh, the professional journal for Israeli therapists. The results of this study have motivated Dr. Hadar-Pecker to investigate a number of other avenues. There's much work ahead, and for Dr. Hadar-Pecker, there is also a kind of compassion satisfaction in her work.

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