Sandra Scheinbaum, Ph.D., founder and CEO, Functional Medicine Coaching Academy, Inc.
Previously, I wrote about how caregivers have been chronically overlooked in a health system designed to prioritize patients despite the significant physical, emotional, and financial sacrifices they make, and how health coaching could alleviate some of these tensions. I received a lot of feedback about the importance of this topic, so I wanted to talk more concretely about how healthcare professionals can be helped by health coaches – and also why health coaches are ideally placed to provide services and support to these individuals.
Improve physical health risks
Due to both the inherently stressful nature of caring for a sick or disabled family member, and the tendency to neglect self-care as a result, caregivers are at a uniquely high risk of disease. According to the CDC, some 14% of healthcare providers report coronary artery disease or stroke (vs 7% of the general population). At the same time, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance, these individuals are more likely to have poor diets, such as consuming foods high in saturated fat or to smoke cigarettes, and half less likely to fill a prescription.
The financial, logistical, time pressure and emotional weight of their jobs put caregivers in a unique position of situational health problems: they are directly caused, or at least seriously exacerbated, by their caregiving duties.
Because of the many external factors that affect their health, caregivers can greatly benefit from working with coaches, who can help them address the specific behaviors and circumstances that undermine their well-being. Health coaches are trained to highlight the lifestyle factors that impact these caregivers—issues such as hydration, sleep, exercise, nutrition, and stress management techniques—and guide them in improving on these fronts in a way that is both for and will ultimately improve the overall quality of their lives.
Before When illness occurs and a doctor’s intervention is needed, a good health coach can help nip harmful behaviors in the bud, gently and supportively guiding a client to establish better, more self-protective patterns and routines (even in the midst of a stressful situation).
Reducing the therapeutic deficit
The rural the demand for mental health services is extraordinary, with not nearly enough qualified health care providers to meet the needs of every person seeking care. At the same time, the emotional and psychological toll of family caregiving is high, with many caregivers in need of mental health care.
For some of these individuals, working with a health coach may be a viable alternative to seeing a therapist. In part, this is due to the significant waiting lists and potentially clumsy schedules required to see therapists, adding further stress to an already tense caregiver. These circumstances may prevent them from seeking any kind of care, especially when therapy is presented as the only course of action.
It is also important to note that caregivers under stress are not necessarily suffering from a diagnosable mental illness, but rather are functioning normally given the stressful situations they find themselves in; the problems they face in relation to informal care are indirect and external. Given the very understandable need for many mental health professionals to prioritize patients dealing with emerging mental health conditions, caregivers may benefit from working with a health coach first. A coach can address many of the issues that contribute to emotional strain, particularly those that impact health: lack of sleep or physical activity, insufficient time for self-care, and challenges in planning and managing caregiving responsibilities. This could ultimately also relieve the pressure on the overburdened mental health care system.
It is important to emphasize that health coaches and therapists have different qualifications and qualifications; however, the targeted, hands-on interventions that health coaches can provide may enable some caregivers to eliminate the need for traditional mental health care.
Create a connection point
With many caregivers already overwhelmed with responsibilities and suffering from additional physical, emotional and financial stress, instructing them to “seek a health coach” can be perceived as both callous and unproductive. So how can caregivers seamlessly connect with health coaches in a way that requires minimal extra work on their part?
The answer is to provide these links at the point of patient care. After the patient is discharged from the hospital or other inpatient setting, the medical practice would connect each patient’s caregiver with a health coach as part of the patient’s aftercare plan. Medical practices could also facilitate group visits for caregivers of certain types of patients, for example, a group for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients or caregivers of wheelchair-bound patients, to give these caregivers the space to not only address some of their own health needs with a coach , but also to get in touch with individuals in similar situations.
A burgeoning crisis situation
With the bad shortage of home care workers and hospital stays and services are reduced to save costsespecially after the pandemic, caregivers are increasingly forced into roles where they are both overworked and untrained.
These problems are, of course, the result of broader problems in managed healthcare, which ultimately require solutions at scale. But in the meantime, there is a critical need for support systems for those in caregiving, and for emergency solutions to prevent them from becoming patients themselves. Health coaches can provide some of this support, even as long-term systemic changes remain a priority.