Wednesday, December 09, 2009
You want me to do what?
You Want Me to Do What? Journaling for Caregivers / B. Lynn Goodwin
Mustang, OK: Tate Publishing, c2009.
I was offered a chance to review this book as a part of a WOW (Women on Writing) blog tour. I jumped at it because I love the topic of journaling, and think it is a very valuable part of self care. I was interested in seeing what B. Lynn Goodwin had to say, as she experienced firsthand the strain of caring for a parent with Alzheimer's, as well as having a background as a writer and English teacher.
This was also the first time I've read an ebook entirely online. I wondered if I would have trouble adjusting to the format, and truth be told, I did find it a bit discombobulating to read the entire book in electronic format. I am just used to paper copy and do prefer it. However, this kind of book is well suited to the e-format, as it has brief blocks of text and lists of questions with a lot of white space left for filling in answers, in the paper copy, or I suppose once you've printed off a page of the e-copy you've bought. In any case, reading it was not difficult, even if I am still more comfortable with hard copy.
But on to the content -- both my sister and I read this ebook; I have a background in libraries & literature, while my sister (K) is a Recreation Therapist specializing in seniors health (she runs a senior care business called Wayfinders). Both our impressions follow:
Me: Lynn introduces the book with a little information about the health benefits of journaling: to reduce stress, open up perspective, reduce feelings of powerlessness, to work through the range of emotions stirred up in the experience of caregiving. Journaling allows the caregiver some space for vital self care. She references some of the major research into journaling, including that of Dr. James Pennebaker. The value of journaling is made explicit, reassuring anyone who may feel that sitting down to write about their own feelings is somehow a bit flaky or self-indulgent (not my view but I know some people who would have difficulty focusing on their own emotions).
K: I agree that this ebook could be a very useful tool in support groups. Caregivers are not only dealing with the ever-shifting demands of Alzheimer's, but also with years of pre-existing family dynamics. In a support group, people may feel less guilt and fear at expressing to themselves the negative emotions they are feeling because others are doing the same exercise.
Me: She follows this introduction with a huge number of prompts, which are beginnings of a sentence to lead journallers into writing. For example, a few prompts are "The truth is...", "Yesterday I believed...", "It's hard to admit...", "If need be..." What should be mentioned is that she leads workshops in this area, and this is a kind of workbook which grows out of that experience. I think that this book would work really well in a group format, with a facilitator guiding the writers. Anyone in a caregiving situation who is accustomed to journaling or to any kind of self reflection could easily pick up and use this book as is, but if the person has not developed the habit throughout their lifetime, some guidance would be helpful. Also, a group setting may also appeal to people with a more kinesthetic or auditory learning style, while a visual learner would probably have the most success using the book on their own.
K: As a support group facilitator, you could use some of the open ended prompts as a way to stimulate discussion and problem solving amongst the group, in addition to using them as journalling prompts. Additionally, this stylized journalling could be turned into a creative arts program for those in care that have maintained their cognitive capacity, or even as verbal prompts to stimulate reminiscing activities with Alzheimer's clientele.
Me: From a literary perspective, I feel that this brief workbook is something to use in a hands-on setting. People new to journaling or just too tired to search out their thoughts while staring at a blank page could benefit from the prompts, which are intended to trigger recollections or awareness of what the journaller is feeling. It follows in the line of many journaling books, but in a more practical and immediately usable format; it's light on theory and heavy on the guided prompts. There is also a more literary bent at the end of the book: there is a section on turning your journaling into publishable writing. Lynn runs a website called Writer Advice, and her focus on writing and publishing comes through in this book as well. I am a big fan of journaling, but wonder whether turning the kind of personal writing which comes from journaling into publishable writing is always possible, or even desired by many who may be put off by the idea of having to create something considered publishable. I believe that journaling is a valuable and meaningful habit to cultivate, however, and enjoyed seeing Lynn's perspective on the topic, particularly how it applies to the needs of exhausted caregivers.
K: Having worked with family caregivers for many years as part of the professional care team this would be a handy resource to be able to share with certain ones, but the suggestion also carries a risk: I have met many that merely suggesting this type of an approach to self care would be perceived as insulting - why on earth would they need to do this? They have a COMPLETE handle on everything that is going on. Another risk is that it means actual writing that someone else could stumble across and read - once written, twice shy! Suggesting this resource could very well put someone on the spot and make them feel like they're not doing a 'good job'.
To maximize the various uses of a book such as this, a good recreation therapist could introduce it as a communication program and integrate the family into the program, and as they see the positive impact of using verbal journalling with their loved one, they could then be provided this book as a resource to use at their leisure, in their own personal time.
Over all, this book is full of information that could be used in many different settings, with caregivers and beyond. In a workshop setting, a facilitator could introduce basic techniques, elucidating the uses and benefits of journaling for people who may not be naturally inclined to use the written word as a coping mechanism. This is a good beginners resource for individuals looking to explore the journaling path.