Counselling carers

Prior to becoming a counsellor, I worked as a carer in a nursing home. When choosing my placement, I saw an advert for a charity that offered services and counselling for carers and it jumped out at me – I knew that was what I wanted to work as.


Although it was different circumstances, as the people who received help from them weren't looking after somebody as employment, I felt that many of the things I had experienced as a carer would help me to have a better understanding of clients. Whilst this did prove to be the case, the biggest difference I could see was that caring for a loved one was 24/7. Carers didn't get a break. Yes, they were able to have time away from the person they were caring for, but this wasn't a relaxing time. Their thoughts would be consumed with worry about the person. 

Were they OK? When was their next doctor's appointment? Did they have to pick up medication? 

They never had time to relax. 

When they came to the counselling room, they were given the opportunity to truly feel at ease. Many described it as a time outside of real life. Their phone was off, nobody to disturb them, and they had the chance to gather their thoughts. It was only then that they were allowed to think about themselves. 

Priorities change when you start caring for somebody. It can be gradual or it can be overnight. With illnesses such as dementia, you become accustomed to caring for the person day by day as their condition progresses. For some, a stroke can change their way of life and those around them in a few seconds. Suddenly, a wife becomes a carer. A son becomes a carer. The next thing you know, it's months since you did anything for yourself.

Caring and mental health

Working with carers is trying to help them find their identity again, because they are not just a carer. They are a person with needs too and, as much as it can seem selfish when they are caring for somebody who needs much more help than them, they need help too.

This is where resentment can build and most carers I know have resentment against the person in their care. If that is not dealt with, then it can affect the care that is given and the mental health of the carer. A carer may also feel guilt that they are feeling resentful too, after all, this person is supposed to be their loved one who needs help. As a counsellor, I try to empathise with this feeling and show the carer that it is natural and they are not alone in their distress. 

The reality of care is much different than most people think. It's not all holding hands and going out for day trips. In fact, going out for the day can be one of the most stressful things. Carers don't know what is going to happen, how the person is going to behave or how other people will react in situations. The person may start shouting or screaming in a public place, and the carer has to handle it. They can feel embarrassed and judged by others, which can result in them taking the person out less.

At home, carers are susceptible to physical violence and mental abuse. This can result in feelings of shame, loneliness and even hatred. Also, think about the things that you do daily that you take for granted... Going to the toilet, eating, getting dressed. Very often, the carer has to assist the person in all of these areas and more. The strength that they have is immense but also, not infinite. Consequently, anxiety and depression are common in carers. 

If the carer no longer feels they can cope or that it is safe for their loved one to be at home, then they may look into care homes. This can be a heart-wrenching decision. They question whether they have made the right choice, and have intense feelings of guilt that they have abandoned the person and also that they are able to have a life again. This guilt can also come after the death of the cared for. The carer then has to adjust to a life where they aren't relied on and sometimes they have a feeling of relief that the person has gone. Maybe 'relief' isn't the right word, it's more like a guilty freedom. 

Without warning, anyone can become a carer, and it's important for carers to maintain their own identity. This is where counselling can help. Counsellors don't have the answers and they can't solve your problems. But they can be there for you. A kind smile and a non-judgmental ear to listen. 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Knutsford WA16 & Stockport SK12
Written by Neil Gaw, Integrative Counsellor. Registered MBACP
Knutsford WA16 & Stockport SK12

I am a Stockport-based integrative counsellor trained in Person-Centred Therapy (PCT), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Transactional Analysis (TA).

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