The feelings you experience as you go through your caring journey can be some of the most confusing and overwhelming you will ever encounter. Medical health staff such as your GP should be able to help with the majority of practical issues relating to the condition of the person you're caring for, but what about the emotional considerations? It's easy to forget it, but emotional wellbeing is every bit as important as the more physical issues.
For many, family and friends can help 'lend an ear' (and more often than not a hand too), and can be an invaluable resource in unburdening yourself of the emotional stresses that caring invariably brings about. Someone to listen to you is very important; your local carers' services, social services, or the message boards on this site all offer a place where you can offload.
Perhaps, though, for whatever reason, you may not be able to discuss such matters with those you are close to, or feel that you need further support. If this is the case a professionally trained counsellor may be the person to help.
How can it help?
Counselling can help you make sense of your new or ongoing life as a carer, whether in specific areas such as dealing with bereavement or separation from a loved one, or with the more general feelings of stress, anxiety and depression you experience in your caring role.
A counsellor could help you to resolve any conflict that exists between you and the one you're caring for and others you are close to, as well as the many other issues affecting the emotional and mental wellbeing of carers.
The counselling process varies from one counsellor to another: some may just listen, especially in the early stages, as getting your problems out in the open can be a crucial step towards resolving them. Some may help you along the decision making process by examining with you the options available to you, so that you can make better informed decisions. The type of support you get will be determined by the particular problems you face and the counsellor's own style.
Finding a counsellor who is right for you
Your local carers centre, GP or social services should be able to give you further advice on counselling and help you to find a counsellor, but how do you know that the one you choose is right for you? Well, on top of the more fundamental considerations like whether or not your counsellor has recognised academic qualifications, adheres to a professional code of conduct and has a complaints procedure, you should check whether they have the necessary experience in the area in which you require support. Some charities for specific illnesses offer counselling and support groups aimed at those affected by the specific condition; you may find the empathy and experience of such support more beneficial in getting to the root of your problems.
Finally, you should meet or speak with the counsellor before committing yourself, to make sure you feel at ease with them, as you will probably be discussing personal and often sensitive information.
Alternative sources of counselling and support
Attending a support group, where you discuss your feelings with other carers whose lives have been affected by the same problems, can be a great way to work through your troubles, realise you're not alone, and make new friends along the way.
Telephone support lines such as the service offered by The Samaritans are another alternative that many carers prefer who feel uncomfortable discussing their problems in a face-to-face environment.
You shouldn't expect counselling to solve all your problems all at once, but as a part of a wider network of support, it can help you to cope with the problems you do have. Finally, with counselling, like with most things, more often than not you get out what you put in. If you can frankly and honestly discuss your problems and make the most of the advice and support on offer you may find counselling an important part of how you cope with caring.