Updated: Mar 26, 2022
Imagine working so hard only to be told you are not doing a good job! This hurts to the core and makes the job of caregiving so much more difficult. I’d like to share today one of the Validation techniques called Centering that might make this situation less difficult.
I have met so many caregivers of older people with dementia, whom I can only describe as angels. They make sure that their loved ones or clients are well taken care of in every way – from preparing healthy meals to finding ways to stimulate them in activities. These caregivers’ work is physically and mentally exhausting and they should be greatly appreciated by all who know them. Sadly, however, the person they care so lovingly for, will often blame them or scold the way they are doing their job.
What is Validation? Validation is a method of communicating with disoriented, very old people. It was developed by Naomi Feil, who grew up in an old age home, where her father was the director, and her mother was the social worker. The residents in the home were Naomi’s friends and because of this unique living situation, Naomi developed a very special relationship and understanding of older people, especially those who were living with dementia.
Naomi became a social worker and returned to work at the same home she grew up in. She felt that the methods she learned to communicate with older people who were living with dementia were not working. If she tried to redirect an older person who was sad or frustrated, it would only result in a temporary solution. Naomi saw that soon after, the older person would feel sad or frustrated again. Naomi, through trial and error, looked for a better way to communicate with older, disoriented people.
Naomi Feil’s Validation Method is based on having an empathetic attitude towards the person who is disoriented and allow them to express themselves either verbally or non-verbally. Validation can help to reduce stress and also enhance dignity in the older person, as well as make caregiving more enjoyable. In Validation we believe that there is a reason behind every behavior, and we try to understand the reason or need behind this behavior. We accomplish this by “connecting heart to heart” to understand the older person who is living with dementia.
Although we can use The Validation Method on everyone, the greatest results are seen in older people who began being disoriented from around age 80 or older.
How Does Centering Work?
All of us hold inside ourselves many emotions. We might be carrying personal issues from the past or we might be holding in anger or fear. We may want to be the very best caregiver, but if we are truly honest with ourselves, we may admit that this job is exhausting, and we may even be willing to admit that we are losing our patience and get angry. That is all OK. Caregiving is one of the most difficult jobs there is!
Now that we understand that we are full of our own emotions, we want to put them away for a little while so that we can reach the older person we are caring for. We want to be able to put our own emotions aside so that we can be fully aware of our loved one’s or our client’s emotions.
Naomi Feil once described centering as to breathe to get rid of all our own feelings so that we are like an empty vessel. Now we have room to take in the feelings of that old person. This is how we connect heart to heart – by allowing ourselves to feel what the other person is feeling.
Why Center? When we can remove our own emotions, we won’t be so hurt. We will be able to concentrate and try to understand the old person we are caring for. Instead of taking it personally and being hurt if the old person blames us, we can look deeper into what is causing the old person to act this way. Then we can try to help them, rather than feel hurt ourselves.
I went to observe and help one of my validation students at a nursing home where she was practicing validation. We had both validated one resident, took a break, and then went to another wing of the nursing home. As soon as we arrived at this memory wing, a resident came up to us and said to me, “Are you her mother?” I was very hurt. My student is only a few years younger than me, and I wondered why she thought I looked so old that I could be my student’s mother. I started thinking - why am I looking so old? What happened to me? My self-confidence immediately plunged as I was suddenly feeling 20 years older! If I had remembered to center again before I went into that memory wing, I would not have felt hurt by this woman’s words because I would have been focused on the women and not myself. Had I centered I would have wondered why is this woman asking if I am my student’s mother? I most probably would have asked her about mothers in general and ask her to tell me about her own mother. I would have validated her to allow her to express what was on her mind and perhaps she would have told me about her mother, about how much her mother loved her. She most probably wanted to remember a time when her life was so much happier. Perhaps if I continued validating her, this women would have shared the favorite foods her mother made, the songs her mother sang to her and she wouldn’t have the need to ask if someone is a mother. Because I wasn’t centered, this old woman’s words hit me like arrows. Centering protects us and gets us out of the picture so we can focus on our loved ones or clients instead.
How to Center
There are many ways to center. We breathe and relax like one does in mediation, but we try to find a way to do this more quickly. (If you have never meditated you might want to read some of my tips here.)
One way to center is to:
Sit up straight in a chair or stand up straight
Close your eyes
Take a few deep breathes to relax by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth
As you breath, feel all the weight of your body in the chair or in the floor
Place both of your hands on your abdomen, right under your navel
Now breathe gently and concentrate on how your breath feels as it pushes in and away from your hands. Continue for a few more breaths until you feel relaxed and can handle the situation by leaving your own emotions out of it.
There are some examples of how to center on the Validation Institute’s You Tube channel. Here is one way to center, explained by Vicki de Klerk-Rubin, the executive director of the Validation Training Institute, who is also Naomi Feil’s daughter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Myv1DsQ5dFc
Try to practice centering so you can feel how to empty your own emotions. If your loved one or client blames you or is angry at what you have done, pause before you react and center. Take a breath, release your own emotions, and then connect to the old person and see what is really behind their words. Your answer may be very different when the focus is off you.
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