From Caregiving to Care-partnering, from Custodial to Relational Care

In assisted living and eldercare in general, it is common to refer to assistants as caregivers. This implies a one-way direction of care: I give care to you. Understood as such, care-giving can easily lead to a one-way, custodial type of care where the caregiver is in control of the care he or she administers. This can also lead to a diminishing of the elder for whom we care: rather than being sensitive to what elders are still able to do for themselves, we override those abilities and do for them rather with them. This points out the difference between a custodial type of care directed by task completion and a relational type of care directed by the deepening and nurturing of the relationship with the elder for whom I care.

By being present to the person whom we encounter, we value relationship. Valuing the relationship means we feel ourselves as partners with the person with whom we relate – not superior or inferior, not better or less good. We meet in our shared humanity. As in an existentially based psychotherapy where therapists understand themselves as partners in the journey towards a deeper understanding of their clients’ lives, so those helping elders in eldercare communities understand themselves as care-partners in the care and services they provide. Only through such an attitude of equality can a genuine relationship be formed and continually nurtured. And only through such an attitude do we human beings ever feel valued, ever feel loved.


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