Understanding carer related issues
Caring for a loved one is a massive undertaking and carers should be respected and acknowledged for the selfless decisions they make on a daily basis, putting the needs of other above their own in some situations. Having had experience counselling carers, I wanted to use this blog post to note some of the related issues carers face. My hope is that if any carers come across this, they may recognise that these concerns are faced by others too and that help is available.
Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that everyone's experience is individual and that the following issues are a collective of concerns raised. Not every carer has these experiences, or all of these experiences. Secondly, none of the below issues are the fault of the person who is being cared for. The concerns are a symptom of the situation.
Questions around identity
Our identity affects us our entire lives. It makes up who we feel we are and who we want to be. It is how others perceive us and how we portray ourselves to the world. We also perceive the identity of others, and this can influence things such as who we become friends with, who we enter into relationships with and who we do business with. Many things can factor into our identity; our job, our religion, our race, our beliefs and values.
Those who care for family members of friends often have to shift their identity when they take on this role. On the surface, this is due to practical things such as changing or stopping a career and changing a social circle. But on a deeper level, it is important to consider how this affects the identity the carer has. We value ourselves on our identities and therefore changing this, especially if it happens quickly, can leave some people feeling a little lost about their purpose and future.
Loss of time for self
Dependent on the intensity of the care receiver's needs, some carers find themselves losing time to them self. By this, I am referring to time where the person can indulge in something for them self without having to worry about having to do something practical. An example of this would be to leave the home to exercise, or doing some personal shopping, safe in the knowledge that the family member is being cared for by someone else. This can sound easily solvable if another family member, or paid carer can offer support, however it is more complex than this.
One complexity is that the person receiving care can feel scared if the carer is not present. This is understandable if they are reliant on the carer for daily tasks, and also we like familiarity. Someone else coming in to support can upset this familiar situation. The second complexity is if the carer feels that they cannot enjoy them self when having time alone. This can be due to worrying about their loved one, or feeling guilty.
Feelings of guilt
This can take many forms, but includes feeling guilty that they cannot solve everything for the person they are caring for. Especially for incurable disabilities and illnesses, the reality of the situation is that no-one can do this. There may also be guilt that the carer has avoided the disability or illness themselves. This is seen often in scenarios where someone required care after a car crash that has caused paralysis. The carer may have also been involve but come away unscathed. Guilt can also come, as mentioned above, when the carer is taking time for them self, socialising with friends or doing something they enjoy.
Feelings of frustration
These can be hard for carers to deal with. In my experience, these feelings can be about a range of things, and can be contaminated by different aspects too. Firstly, carers can feel frustrated or angry about any of the issues mentioned above, and the feeling that life has not turned out the way they imagined when they were younger. Carers may also feel frustrated with the person they are caring for. This is normal; we feel frustrated with people all our lives, but the caring element can add a degree of uncomfortableness to these feelings.
How could counselling help?
Counselling can support carers in a number of ways. Firstly the carer attending counselling individually provides them with a safe space to explore their feelings and emotions with a trained professional. This person has skills to provide a holding space for these emotions to be dealt with, and in some types of therapy to also think about the situation in a different way.
Counselling can help carers discuss their own identity, how this has changed but also to find their new identity and grow to love it. It can also support carers to make hard decisions for them self and the person they care for.
Couples therapy may also be beneficial for a carer who cares for a spouse. This may provide an opportunity to an open dialogue, with the benefit of a trained professional to guide the discussion. In the UK, you can find a therapist on Counselling Directory and Psychology Today. There are also many charities for carers, have a look online for one in your local area to see if they offer counselling.
Adam Rothwell is a registered Person-Centred counsellor, working in private practice, seeing clients online and by phone in the UK.