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Caring journey and counselling

Updated: May 17

Carers blog

I know that there are plenty of stories out there of people’s personal experience and guides as to how to seek help. I thought I could share my experience and help as I have had a foot in both camps, as it were. 

Caring Journey

One of my parents cared for the other for a lot of my early life. I saw first-hand how it can be to care for someone with little appreciation from outside of that bubble, as to how hard it actually is. There were a lot of things that were often missed by those around, either as professionals or as friends/ family, to name a few:-

Being on call 24 hours a day – yes it isn’t work, but often you

are needed and the time of day doesn’t matter.

Without different people around or a work type environment providing

social interactions and distractions, it can be a very isolating and lonely place at times.

You lose a sense of identity and purpose, as the concentration

is on the cared for person and their needs.

Financially, it can be a real struggle. You may want to and be able to work,

but the caring needs leave you unable to fit in the hours of paid work.

Services see you as a worker in the sense that they don’t deal with problems

as quickly as they might, if they were on their own. In the same breath,

you are not treated as a peer or colleague as you’re not “part of their team”.

As the eldest child, I was a supportive structure for my two younger siblings and a support for my parents. Happily, I helped out. However, if I hadn’t have do so, what would the answer have been? It doesn’t always bear thinking about. A main struggle is to get services to offer help. If they do manage to reach out, the next obstacle can usually be that this help on offer will not always be accepted, when it is offered is a real situation for many.

Work experiences

I have worked in many areas of Mental Health and learning difficulties with clients of varying struggles. My experience ranges from working in hospital wards to community environments. One thing that rings true is the carer shows an interest, but presents as needing help for them, just as much as the cared for person. I have found that the following are key things they want to know:-

Diagnosis – with a diagnosis, there is a chance of understanding or a hope for treatment.

A diagnosis can offer reasoning as to why the person has presented as they do.

What help is available to care alongside the carer?

This is important, particularly near hospital admissions or times of crisis,

as the carer has usually been managing the crisis on their own,

may feel fatigued and struggling with the situation.

Are you someone that understands and hears their needs?

You may offer signposting to services, but unless you understand them

as well as what you are offering, it is unlikely to sink in.

Reassure that what they or the service is doing is the best course of action.

Sometimes treatments or ways of working with people can feel unnatural,

which then makes the carer or loved one question it. 

On occasions I have had conversations with people who can feel lost if they

are the main carer and their cared for person is admitted to hospital or into

supported accommodation.

This can lead to anxiety and guilt forming because they are unsure

how they should feel but also unable to relax. 

Counselling experiences

The benefits of counselling for carers is that they have a chance to speak freely without being judged in a safe space. There is a time that focusses just on them and makes them appreciate their own needs, almost making them feel human again.

I would say that in counselling, some of the things that are worked on include

but are not limited to:-

  • Being heard

  • Being comfortable with being heard

  • Understanding that it is ok to be considered as an individual as well as their caring responsibilities

  • Discussing guilt

  • Processing their needs

  • Remembering why they care

  • Trying to work out how they can be there for the care needs, but also allow some time for their needs

  •  Finding peace with the situations they find themselves in

Compassion fatigue

Carers are vulnerable to compassion fatigue because they are trying to care for someone who could be close to them. The experience can also be intense. This intense situation can lead to the carer feeling the pain and experiences of the care duties to become almost over-understanding of their plight. Compassion fatigue is when this starts to weigh on them and leave the carer feeling overwhelmed, like their well of compassion is running empty. Due to this, the cared for person may start to become a task to functionally complete rather than assist and maintain dignity. 

Self care

Questions and thoughts that are useful to consider:-

Remember that there is most likely a conscious decision to have become a carer. 

If with a clear head, you would knowingly make the same decision,

it may be clear that you can reassure yourself that it is not a regretful decision. 

What can you control and manage? Lots of things can be out of our control,

but if we take some of the smaller things and work on making them more manageable

it can have a knock on effect on the whole picture. 

Think about the things you enjoy? 

Do you still get the time to enjoy them or can you make the time?

Celebrate victories

When things are difficult we can forget to appreciate our successes no matter how small.

It can be helpful find ways to acknowledge the wins life throws at us,

even if other things make us feel like it is irrelevant.

Find appreciation

When caring for people, there can be many reasons we provide that care. It could be that they have physical health, mental health or capacity issues that mean we can’t always be thanked

or see an appreciation. I will never forget working with a man who was non-verbal but changed the tone of his sounds when he was receiving care. Sometimes a small thing can be overlooked, but if we can acknowledge it, it can start to make the difference and allow us to feel valued in the caring responsibilities.

Appreciate your own efforts. 

Allow ourselves to feel pride in the work that is done. There is nothing wrong with feeling good about providing support for someone. Providing assistance when it might not normally be even offered can also give you some self-worth. 

Not only speak up and ask for help but if any is offered work on accepting it. 

It can be hard to accept help, as it feels a duty that you’re responsible for and that

only you should be the one to provide that support. 

Prioritise positive things

Schedule the positive events into your days or weeks where possible.

The more positive events that are available to both you and the cared for person,

the easier it is to be positive in life. 

Learn to pamper yourself

It might sound strange, but taking the time to look after yourself. Ensure you have time for a haircut, beauty or self-care regime or a day to have a takeaway are a few examples.

Try focus on one simple things at a time

It can feel overwhelming to look at all the things that need to be done,

or feeling like there is not any time left for yourself. Using mindfulness techniques

or meditation can help improving focus and concentration.

Make yourself laugh

Laughter can truly be the best medicine, in that the reactions of how the mind and body

reacts to laughing. This can improve mood as well as relieving stress.

Take care of your body

Imagine being on the airplane and hearing the safety announcement about putting on

the breathing apparatus for yourself first. This is because as a carer, you may need to be the

one who is able to ensure the safety of someone else. If we don’t take care of our bodies, i.e. exercising, eating reasonably in moderation or even having our own health check-ups may result in us not being able to do the things we need/want to do.

I found Waring’s (2018) carers bible to be really helpful in concentrating

my thoughts for this blog.

Dominic Burch is a person-centred counsellor, registered with the BACP. 

He has been working in mental health in varying roles since 2003.

He also has experience as a carer and supporting those who identify as carers.

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