Doctors and nurses are "better at giving care to others than making sure their own resilience is maintained," said Susan Shavin, a San Francisco psychologist and consultant.
"But if as caregivers we take good care of ourselves — physically and spiritually — we can serve as role models for those suffering physiologically.
"Plus, we need to restore our intellectual, physical and spiritual resources. In order to give you have to restore your own spirit and own being."
More caregivers are realizing this, Shavin said, and many are turning to Eastern sources such as Buddhism for inspiration. However, "they may be overlooking a wealth of Jewish sources," she said.
Ruach Ami: Bay Area Jewish Healing Center is addressing that concern at its first conference for health-care professionals, Refa'einu: Judaism and Healing for Health Care Professionals.
The Sunday, April 21, seminar at San Francisco's Fort Mason Conference Center is co-sponsored by more than a dozen Jewish and health-care organizations.
The conference will focus on what Judaism teaches about health, illness and healing; which Jewish resources help sustain spirits; and how Judaism can be integrated into clinical work.
Workshop topics include "Music and Healing," "Living with Dying and Life after Death," "Care for the Whole Person with Chronic Illness," and "Our Own Grief and Loss as Caregivers." Rabbi Nancy Flam will deliver the keynote address: "Healing the Spirit, Healing the Body," and a panel will discuss "Caring for Others, Caring for Ourselves."
According to Marsha Guggenheim, Ruach Ami administrative director, the program is a response to a cry from Jewish health care providers, "numerous health care professionals and friends of the Bay Area Healing Center who have called over the years asking to learn more, for their patients and for themselves."
Shavin isn't surprised by the request, or its dual nature. Although her workshop titled "Care for the Caregiver: A Personal Look At Our Own Stress and Coping Strategies" is focused on bringing resources to the patient, "it begins with using these resources ourselves," she said.
Shavin suggests prayers and meditations to help people find their strengths. Sabbath observance can have a renewing effect, she said, and the Jewish community can provide support.
"People dealing with stress need to feel a connection with others," Shavin said. "It's one of the four aspects of effective coping along with feeling a sense of commitment — a sense of purpose, of challenge — not feeling demands as a burden, and of control of one's life."