Book Review

The Helper’s Journey: Working with People Facing Grief, Loss, and Life-Threatening Illness

Dale G. Larson
Research Press; Champaign, Illinois, 1993

This book is written for healthcare providers. It is deep reading and requires focus and dedication to get through the book. Some paragraphs offer challenging, complex thoughts, which may need to be read more than once to comprehend. The effort put forth will yield insight into our own fears, relationships, and communication skills.

In our care giving, we strive for a position of balance. If we are under-involved we may find ourselves distant and burned out. Some situations may push us to move to a less involved stance. We may note fatigue, feeling emotionally drained, frustrated, and used up. These feelings may lead to diminished caring and burn out. Burn out then leads to a sense of futility and personal failure.

At the other end of the spectrum is over-involvement, which is exciting and exhausting. When the intensity becomes too great, coping skills are strained which lead to either under-involvement or setting healthy limits by withdrawing physically and emotionally.

There is an optimal range of emotional involvement, it begins with empathy and ends at the extreme with personal distress.

Our goal is to find joy in bringing our patients through the dark places that they travel, and, rather than taking on their problems as our own and to suffer with them, caregivers must grow and strengthen themselves through wrestling with the pain of others rather than letting that pain destroy them.

Heartfelt experiences from healthcare providers are shared; their experiences allow us to understand that we are not alone in our struggles with providing care and support on a daily basis.

The author says, “The greatest gift we can give is that of human presence – the feeling that they are not alone in their struggle. We can give this gift only if we are willing to take the risk of becoming involved with the stranger who seeks our help. Yet we must find a way to do this without becoming enmeshed with the other.”

Our own personal experiences will certainly impact our perceptions, actions, and our care giving. This book will help you to understand more about yourself and how you interact with others


Reviewed By:  Betty Jo Grajeda, MD
In:  Sep 2006