Carer support

Written by Bonnie Gifford
Bonnie Gifford
Counselling Directory Content Team

Last updated 13th February 2024 | Next update due 12th February 2027

Unpaid carers are people who look after a friend, partner or loved one who is ill, disabled, old, or experiencing mental illness. Whether you help around the clock or for a few hours, caring can have a big impact on your life. We share more about how caring can affect you, how to find support, and how therapy can help.

What are carers and what do they do? 

Providing unpaid care is more common than many people realise. Around 5.7 million people across the UK provide unpaid care, according to England and Wales Census 2021 figures, together with ONS Census data for Scotland and Northern Ireland. This means that nearly one in 10 (9%) of us provide unpaid care. One in seven working people juggle work and care responsibilities.

Carers help others in their day-to-day life. Unlike people who provide care professionally, most unpaid carers are friends, partners or relatives of the person they are caring for. 

This type of support can be essential for helping loved ones get the most out of life. It can also be taxing, mentally and physically, for you as a carer. For some, caring becomes a sudden responsibility (for example if a loved one is involved in an accident or becomes ill). For others the responsibility creeps up on them - relatives begin to age and are unable to cope, or your partner's health deteriorates.  

The responsibilities carers have will depend on the needs of the person they care for. Generally, carers will look to help loved ones in their everyday activities. This can range from feeding and clothing someone to taking them out for appointments or to socialise. 

Juggling this sort of care with other responsibilities such as work and family life can be difficult. As a carer, you may experience higher levels of stress. This can make you more susceptible to anxiety and depression.

If you are 25 or under and provide care, you may be a young carer. Find out more about counselling for young carers and where you can find support through our Young carers page.

How can counselling help carers?

Many people undertaking a caring role can benefit from counselling. This is especially true if you feel caring may be affecting your mental or physical health.

For many caregivers, a huge amount of their time is spent on others. This means you may have little or no time to focus on yourself. Counselling sessions can help with this.

Counselling offers you an opportunity to talk about your thoughts and feelings in a safe, confidential environment. Talk therapy allows you the time and space to think about your needs and learn new techniques to promote relaxation. Therapy can help you make sense of your emotions and develop coping mechanisms for issues that cannot be resolved. It can also help you discover new self-care methods and ways in which you can prioritise your health and well-being while still juggling your care responsibilities.

Seeking help and support for yourself and your well-being isn’t selfish. Having someone to talk to is essential. Speaking with a professional can feel easier for some people, as it provides an outside perspective, and you may feel more able to open up to someone who is not personally involved in the situation. The better you feel - mentally, physically, and emotionally - the better the position you are in to care for your loved one. 

Counsellors who can help carers

What if I don't have time for counselling?

Finding time to prioritise yourself and your needs can be tough. For carers, this can be particularly hard, as you may be juggling work and caring responsibilities. It can be helpful to find a counsellor who is local to you, as this can help reduce extra travel time. Many therapists offer different session times and days to help fit in with your needs, such as evening or weekend appointments. Speak with your counsellor about your other time commitments to help arrange when may best work for your sessions.

Online counselling or telephone counselling can also be a good alternative. Online counselling can take place via email, messaging service, or video chat in real time. There is mounting evidence that suggests online therapy is as effective as traditional in-person counselling, and can, for many, offer greater flexibility and reduced time commitments needed (as you can have your sessions from the comfort of your own home). 

Counselling for compassion fatigue

Compassion fatigue is the term used to describe the impact (physical, emotional, and psychological) of helping others. It can often be mistaken for burnout, which is more of a sense of fatigue or dissatisfaction, though both can be the result of dealing with high levels of stress for prolonged periods. 

Compassion fatigue can happen for both professional carers, as well as anyone in a caring role. It can be difficult to separate yourself from other’s trauma. Trying to deal with this stress by yourself can, over time, escalate, leading to severe stress, depression, or anxiety. 

If you are worried you may be experiencing compassion fatigue, counselling can help you learn how to prioritise your well-being and reduce stress. Therapy can offer a type of emotional release, which many carers can benefit from. 

Impacts of caring

Caring for someone you love is a selfless act. Caring can provide the opportunity to feel closer to the other person, strengthening your relationship, as well as creating the opportunity for personal growth and development. Whether acknowledged or not, your caring is likely appreciated and valued. But it is important to remember that being a carer can feel difficult and may impact different areas of your life. This is why accessing carer support is so important. 

Coping with stress as a carer

All of us experience stress at some point in our lives. Stress is the way our body deals with a perceived threat. For carers, stress often builds up when the demands on you exceed what you can cope with. 

Learning to manage stress often requires different approaches. As a carer, taking a break and experiencing respite is important. It can be helpful to see if friends and family can offer more support, as well as look to see what respite services are available in your area.

Talking about your feelings and gaining support is also important when it comes to managing stress and knowing when to seek help. See if there are any support groups near you (or online), here you can talk to fellow carers about your experiences.

Looking after your physical health is also important. This means ensuring you are eating well, getting enough sleep and taking regular exercise. Having time to yourself to relax is also key.

Maintaining social relationships

Taking on a care role can put a great deal of strain on families, relationships and friendship groups. Some carers say they feel as if their friends and family disappear once they begin caring, with more than a quarter (29%) reporting that they feel lonely often or always, according to Carers UK. Relationships can suffer as a result of caring, leaving carers feeling isolated.

In some cases, your friends and family may think they are doing the right thing by staying away. Try letting them know that you need their support and don't be afraid to ask for help. Start by asking for a small favour - like picking up some shopping. Tell them how much this means to you. This will hopefully encourage them to offer their help again in the future.

You may also find that you simply don't have time to connect with your friends and family. Be open with them about this. Explain any logistical issues that may affect when, where or how often you can meet in person. If you struggle to arrange a place and time, try arranging an online catchup or keep in touch via social media. It isn’t always a perfect solution, but it can help you to feel more connected. 

Family counselling can help if you are struggling with conflict. Often, having someone there with an independent viewpoint to mediate the conversation helps.

Financial impacts of caring

Being a carer for a loved one can have an impact on your finances. According to Carers UK, 63% of carers are worried about managing their monthly costs thanks to the cost of living crisis. You may find that you pay for external care services and assistive equipment, and have increased costs for utilities due to being at home more or needing to use the heating more frequently. You may also find you are paying for hospital parking charges and other transportation costs.

Financially, you may be entitled to carer support from the government and Carers Allowance. We will explore the legal side of carer support further down the page.

Your health and well-being 

Research suggests that those who care for others are more likely to suffer from poor health than non-carers. Caring can have a significant impact on health and well-being. This is because the pressures of being a carer can take its toll, affecting both physical and mental health.

Physically, problems like back pain are common. This is due to the physical exertion sometimes required when caring. Mentally, heightened stress levels and social isolation can lead to conditions such as depression and anxiety. The health impacts are often worsened by the fact that many carers struggle to find the time to attend medical appointments.

If you are worried about your stress levels, physical or mental health, speak with your GP. They may be able to help signpost local services and support. 

Impacts of caring on employment

An overwhelming number of carers (75%) who are working worry about continuing to juggle work and care, while on average, 600 people a day leave work to provide unpaid care. Unpaid carers who provide high levels of care may end up giving up work to focus on caring duties or need to reduce how much or how frequently they work, due to stress or time commitments. 

In the short term, this can cause financial worries. Long-term, it can impact your career and overall household finances. Finding out what support you may be entitled to – financially and practically – is important. 

From 6 April 2024, The Carer’s Leave Act will mean that unpaid carers will have the right to five days of unpaid carers leave. The Flexible Working Act, due to come into effect from 6 April 2024, also gives you the right to ask your employer for flexible working arrangements from your first day of employment if you live in England, Scotland, or Wales. This means you have the right to ask for changes to your working hours, the times you work, and where you work twice a year and will no longer have to make a case about how these changes may impact your employer. 


An important way you can maintain both physical and mental health when caring for others is by taking a break. Residential respite and domiciliary care (also known as home care or private care) are the most common options. Residential respite offers residential care for the person you are looking after whilst you are away. Domiciliary care involves someone visiting your home and taking on your responsibilities for a certain period such as overnight or even just for an afternoon.

Taking a short break from caring, whether it is for a few hours, overnight, or a few days, can be important for your health and well-being. Some local councils, charities, or benevolent funds may offer respite care, or you may need to pay privately. 

When caring ends

Caring roles may come to an end for a variety of different reasons. Illnesses or injuries may improve, alternative forms of care may be needed (such as paid carers or care homes), or your loved one may pass on. 

Coping with changes can feel overwhelming or scary. Reaching out to speak with friends, loved ones, or professional counsellors can offer help and support. 

The death of a loved one is always difficult, but it can hit you particularly hard if you were caring for the person. You may also find you are experiencing very mixed emotions. As well as grief, you may also feel a sense of relief or even happiness that the person's suffering is over. It's important to understand that there is no right or wrong way to react to bereavement, but if you are struggling with it, you may benefit from bereavement counselling.

When a great deal of your time and life revolves around another person, you may feel a little lost when your role as a carer is over. Rather than fearing this change, try to look at it as a new opportunity. An opportunity to think about what you want from life. Speaking to a coach or counsellor can be helpful.

Carer support: What are my rights?

In the past, carers didn't have legal rights to receive support. Now, however, the Care Act gives local authorities a responsibility to assess the carer's need for support, if the carer looks to have such needs.

This allows more carers to have an assessment and gain access to support. Your local authorities will take your and the person you're caring for needs into account to see what support you are eligible for.

Depending on your situation, you may be eligible to claim carer's allowance. This is financial support you can use to help with your caring role. You are advised to talk to your care manager or social worker for more details. There are also some online resources to find up-to-date information on carers' rights such as:

What should I be looking for in a counsellor or psychotherapist?

There are no specific types of training or regulations required for counsellors or therapists to help carers looking for support. However, finding a therapist with relevant experience, who has undertaken an accredited course, qualification, or workshop may be beneficial. Find out more about how to find the right counsellor for you.

Some people also find it beneficial to join a local support group so they can share any challenges they experience with other carers.

Carer support groups

Support groups can create the opportunity for you to meet other people in a similar situation, share experiences, as well as to offer and receive support in a safe, confidential environment. Some people find that sharing their experience as carers with other carers may help them to open up more. Find out more about how support groups can help you

Further help

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