There’s a Fine Line Between Guidance and Telling.

If there is no right or wrong or good or bad what is our responsibility as carers when responding to clients?

Two ways present themselves.

To be in true service or judge another

Important as it is to be in constant observation of self and another, the moment we use observation as a route into judgement and/or feel we know best or better, we are no longer working in service of another or self and no longer in observation.

How do we respond to a client in recovery at home after a two-week spell in hospital with pneumonia? The brief, to offer live-in support as a client convalesces which offered client and carer much to learn and deepen.

The assignment below offered an opportunity for me to see myself more clearly.

The client home and convalescing, presented in certain ways. She, a woman, widow, mother of five children aged eighty-five had a determination to ‘get back to where she was’ before hospitalization: active, in control, tending her beautiful garden, receiving visits from many friends, a ‘people person’. An expression she used often was ‘push’. “I must keep pushing – I can’t stand still.” 

Breathlessness followed exerted movement, especially climbing stairs. A chair placed midway up the stairs was for her to sit and pause before continuing to her bedroom.  She often resisted this.  Her inability to put herself first or truly care for herself was a source of tension for her.  But it was, she said, against her faith to be any different. Consequently, great tension generated whenever a decision had to be made.  She found it extremely difficult to say ‘No’ to requests from friends and family to visit at times that infringed on her own need to rest. She experienced physical and emotional disquiet and tiredness whenever she allowed others to infringe on her two-hour afternoon rest period, at the heart of her recuperation.  Even without this, she was interminably restless.

How does a carer respond to this?

As one who had lived and experienced the many benefits of self-care over fifteen years, it was difficult to keep myself out of the way. Initially, I fell into the trap of expressing what I felt she could do or not do. This position, value laden and judgemental was built on a premise I knew better than she did. The truth was, whatever choices faced the client, she knew what to do and made her own choice about self-care. It could be said she didn’t know how to change a way of being carefully cultivated over eight decades. But it was as it was. 

This is not to say I did nothing.  I also offered gentle guidance on possible ways forward, but always hers to choose or not.  But there’s a fine line between guidance and telling.

It was for her to find her way through, not for me to direct in anyway. 
It was her journey, not mine.

Equally important for me as carer was to clock where ‘I’ was with all this.  This client’s reflection increased my own self-awareness and confirmed an aspect of myself still unresolved. I saw I was no different to her. I too had not completely freed myself from a repeating pattern or quality of responsiveness: judgement (she was wrong), arrogance (I knew better) and fixing (offering solutions to support).

My learning, as soon as I clocked this was to step back.

A true observer does not interfere or impose on another.

So, what was the way?

To be a reflection of another way of being through my own movements: self-care, steadiness, stillness and personal daily rhythm.  Nothing else needed.  I continued to observe with no judgement, rather than expressing what I ‘thought’ she should do.

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