An exploratory study of how occupational therapists develop therapeutic relationships with family caregivers.

C. A. Clark, Elizabethtown College
M. Corcoran, Elizabethtown College
L. N. Gitlin, Elizabethtown College


Family members, who provide 70% to 80% of all long-term care, have often been perceived by occupational therapists as a barrier to, rather than a partner in, effective care for elderly persons. This perception suggests that in order to build effective partnerships to manage complex issues, occupational therapists working with elderly persons must develop effective strategies for involving family members in the therapeutic process. This article describes a pilot study that examined how occupational therapists engage family caregivers of elderly persons receiving home care services. A qualitative descriptive approach was used to explore the behaviors demonstrated by two occupational therapists when working with family caregivers. The findings point to four primary types of occupational therapist-caregiver interaction, categorized as: caring, partnering, informing, and directing. These interaction styles were compared with current literature describing state-of-the-art occupational therapy practices with older adults and family caregivers. An emphasis was placed on examining how therapeutic interactions can evoke different caregiver responses and influence the development and maintenance of collaborative therapeutic relationships. The results of this pilot study can serve as a framework for further exploration of interactive strategies that promote caregiver empowerment and ultimately influence the ability of families to assume responsibility for the long-term care required by many chronically disabled older adults.