For caregivers, who often put the needs of their patients above their own and hide their own feelings, finding support and community is crucial. Since its inception in 2017, Caregivers Connect at City of Hope has shown great success in tending to the overlooked emotional and physical well-being of caregivers. Caregivers Connect provides the much-needed connection, emotional support and community to help reduce the feelings of isolation and burnout that so many caregivers experience.
Caregivers Connect was created by clinical social workers and health educators on City of Hope’s Supportive Care Medicine team, who wanted to give caregivers a safe space to receive support from other people who understand what they’re going through. The group name has proven to be a perfect description for what happens in the group: caregivers connect.
How the group works
Caregivers Connect meets virtually on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at noon. It’s a drop-in group that does not prescreen, so all are welcome, as long as they are caring for a loved one with cancer. Even community members with patients being treated outside of City of Hope regularly attend.
The group starts with an ice breaker of four questions: What is the caregiver’s name, what brings them to the group, what is one thing they do to take care of themselves and, finally, what is the biggest challenge right now? Very often the self-care question stumps caregivers because they do nothing to care of themselves. Many count coming to the group as the only form of self-care they can give themselves.
After introductions, group members are encouraged to share their experiences and feelings with the other caregivers in the room. Finding support from other caregivers allows participants to lay their burdens down in a safe, supportive, nonjudgmental environment. All sorts of difficult emotions come up in a group session — anger, frustration, fear, resentment — and many more. Working through these emotions with others who understand the difficulties that caregiving brings can be easier and more effective than trying to do it alone. The comradery found in these caregiver support groups is powerful. To bring the group to a close, attendees participate in a guided meditation.
How the group has been successful
The group’s format allows for social workers to guide caregivers to take an inventory of what they are thinking and feeling, effectively communicate those thoughts and feelings, and implement an intervention, like meditation, exercising, taking a bath, reading a book or another healthy activity that can decrease their stress.
Feedback from group participants has been positive, and the data gathered from the surveys administered at every group meeting shows that caregivers who go through this process leave the group feeling better than they did when they came in.
Because the group has seen success at City of Hope, the creators want to make it possible for other hospitals and cancer centers to replicate that success. Social workers have shared the story of Caregivers Connect at an Association of Oncology Social Work meeting, and their poster presentation won first place, showing that there is great interest in bringing this type of support to caregivers everywhere, not just at City of Hope.
In the end, what makes Caregivers Connect so special is the brave caregivers who show up every week to share their stories, show their vulnerabilities and remain open to the process. To learn more about Caregivers Connect, please email email@example.com. If you would like to attend a session, you can register here.