News and Notes from The Johnson Center

Caring for the Caregiver: Psychotherapy for Parents and Caregivers of People with Special Needs

JCCHD | Mon, June 25, 2018 | [Autism Treatment][Community][Healthcare][News]

Parents and caregivers of people with special needs often find themselves facing challenges that would never cross the minds of many parents with typically developing children. From the everyday need to advocate for their child’s best interests to the fear of what the future might bring, special needs parents often find themselves struggling to find a healthy balance. The parents and caregivers of children and young adults with chronic conditions, life-threatening illnesses, and developmental disorders may live in a traumatic state every day as they watch their child experience the challenges that come with their conditions. Living in this constant state of stress is hard on the body and mind, but psychotherapy can help.

What unique challenges do special needs parents and caregivers face?

Burnout – Caregiver burnout is real. Some parents of typically developing children might ask, “How can a parent get caregiver burnout? Taking care of your child is your job.” But caring for a child with special needs is so much more than that. It’s a 24/7 job with little respite, and that’s often on top of your other everyday obligations. When your child has major cognitive challenges or complex medical issues, there is no escape from caregiving. Signs of caregiver burnout are a combination of any of these experiences: feeling constantly run down, feeling like all of the responsibility falls on your shoulders, feeling like you’re consistently on an emotional roller coaster, having no hobbies for yourself, feeling unable to take care of or time for yourself, avoiding social plans, feeling unable to trust anyone else with your child, and getting little rest because your child is always on your mind.

Advocacy – Parents of kids with differences report feeling defensive and ready to put up a fight as default, because they have to spend so much of their lives pushing and fighting to get their child what he/she needs. This world designed by and for neurotypical people often does not understand the needs and challenges of someone with differences, and limited funding, legal power, and knowledge can result in parents having to fight to make everything accessible to their child. This constant battle affects many parents in ways they might not even realize. For example, although a mom thinks an IEP meeting went as well as expected, she finds herself becoming angry when telling a third party about it. The anger fuels her to fight for her child, but it also puts a large, continuous amount of stress on her that doesn’t go away when one fight ends. She knows another one is just around the corner.

Living in danger or pain – When you have a child with special needs, you might feel as if danger is constantly lurking over your shoulders and have to be always on guard. Another seizure or a major meltdown could start at any moment, and some parents live in fear of the pain their children, and in turn they, will experience. Believe it or not, some caregivers of kids with special needs show symptoms similar to those of and are at risk for developing post-traumatic stress disorder; however, for these caregivers, the stressful event, or trauma, is ongoing. How does a person heal when danger or pain remains present? Their sense of safety is non-existent and may need to be rebuilt from the ground up with help from a professional. 

Grief – When they find out they are expecting a child, every parent has hopes and dreams of what that child will be. When a child is diagnosed with a life-altering condition, those hopes and dreams change, and that results in a sense of loss for many parents. Even as parents come to accept the diagnosis and what it means for their child, many parents report needing to grieve as their child hits various life milestones.

While life’s challenges will continue and will often be out of our control, psychotherapy can be a brief respite, a first step to increased self-care, a path from pain to resiliency and meaning, and a safe place to experience all of the overwhelming and sometimes guilt-inducing emotions that go with being a parent or caregiver of a person with special needs.

At The Johnson Center for Child Health & Development, we firmly believe in the value of counseling services for parents and caregivers and we are proud to offer services from clinicians who are experienced and dedicated to serving the needs of our community. It is our goal to ensure that appropriate intervention and support is available to anyone in need, regardless of financial circumstances. Assistance seeking insurance reimbursement, grants, and a sliding fee scale are available for people in need of support.

For more information about The Johnson Center’s psychotherapy services and other resources for parents and caregivers, contact The Johnson Center at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or 512-732-8400.