Carers need caring for too
Many people find themselves at some time in their life looking after a relative or friend who is elderly or has physical or mental health problems. According to Carers UK "Every day another six thousand people take on a caring responsibility". This caring may be on a short or long term basis and can be an experience that ranges from painful difficulty to being immensely rewardomg for both carer and 'cared for'.
However, the experience can affect people in many ways and carers often feel loneliness and isolation as their lives become increasingly centred on the needs of the person they are looking after. They may have to put their own lives to one side and 'put on a brave face' to protect that person from knowing how difficult things are. It is not uncommon for carers to develop their own physical and mental health problems as the stress they are experiencing takes its toll.
Becoming someone's carer often involves multiple loss such as relationships changing, financial difficulties arising or the carer's social life becoming restricted. When looking after a partner or close relative with mental illness or dementia a carer may feel the loss of the support and companionship that they experienced in the past. In addition they may have to live with the anticipation of greater loss due to the degenerative or terminal nature of the cared for person's condition.
Counselling is one way in which carers can take positive action to look after themselves. The ways it can help vary enormously. For some, simply having a safe place where they can 'offload' their feelings provides enough relief for them to feel refreshed and better able to cope with the demands of caring. For others, their needs may be more complex with the demands of their caring role affecting many aspects of their life and raising deeper questions about self-worth and the beliefs that influence the way they live. This is when more in depth help may be needed to enable someone to understand themselves and their situation more clearly, to see where and how change might be possible that will benefit both carer and 'cared for'.
The writer's experience of benefits reported by carers who have received counselling is as varied as the individuals concerned. They can range from feeling happier about their situation, being more able to look after their own needs, having more self-confidence and better relationships to choosing to step out of their caring role by making far reaching changes to their lives and the way the person they care for is looked after.
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