When we find ourselves juggling it all, life can quickly get overwhelming. Whether the daily stresses of caring have led us to burnout or we’re dealing with an emergency. It can be tough for us to stay resilient all the time.
In times of crisis, we might need to talk. The reality is that we don’t always have someone there to listen. Even when we do, our friends and family might not always give us the best advice.
From telling us to ‘look on the bright side’ to reminding us that ‘things could be worse’, there are lots of ways that people can dismiss the stresses of being an unpaid carer. And in putting a brave face on our negative emotions like pain and hurt, we may fail to process them, heal and ultimately move on.
If talking is what we need, there are lots of trained people that can listen with a non-judgemental ear. They can help us to make sense of what we’re feeling and find healthy strategies to move forward.
Many carers in our community say that accessing this kind of impartial support has been a real lifeline. It can feel really good to be seen and understood after many years of managing our problems on our own.
In this blog post, we’ll cover:
Why is there a stigma in accessing talking therapy?
Therapy is really common. But because of the stigma around therapy, we might be reluctant to try it out.
A common worry is that a therapist will judge us for our problems. We may assume others will think we’re ‘crazy’ for needing support. We might also downplay our problems and think they’re not important enough for professional help.
Another common barrier to therapy may be that mental health isn't something that is often openly talked about at home. Culture can play a big role in how we perceive therapy, and whether we think we need one.
The truth is that everyone can benefit from therapy. We all have problems, big and small. In the UK, one in eight adults receives treatment for a mental health issue. Additionally, one in four of us suffer from a mental health issue.
When we’re caring for someone else, it can be difficult to find the time and motivation to do something for ourselves. Especially when we’re busy, overwhelmed and have lots of things to do. Therapy is an important preventative tool.
It can stop long-term carer stress from developing into bigger issues like anxiety, depression and burnout. It’s important we prioritise our self-care so we can continue to thrive.
Incredibly, about 75% of people who enter therapy find some benefit from it. When we’re feeling overwhelmed, it really can help.
How can therapy benefit us?
There are many ways therapy can help us. Therapy can help us to:
Find new solutions to old problems
View situations with more clarity
Improve our relationships
Ease mental health issues like anxiety and depression
Normalise and process carer emotions like anger and guilt
For many people, talking about their problems can also be just as effective as taking medication, if not more. Here are a few caring scenarios where it can be particularly useful:
When we need on-the-go support
Therapy can help us to find healthy coping mechanisms. This can aid the reduction of stress when we’re close to total burnout. It can also help us to figure out what our boundaries are and how to set them. This can be useful if we feel like we’re disproportionately shouldering the lion’s share of the caring work for family members.
When we have no one to talk with
Having someone to confide in can be really powerful when we just need to let it all out. If we don’t have anyone to speak to at home, a therapist is there to listen without judgement.
In therapy, we might even find we’re more comfortable talking to a stranger than we are speaking to someone we know.
Being a young carer comes with its own set of challenges. A therapist can help us to find strategies to balance school and home responsibilities, while still making time for our own self-care. They can also listen to our frustrations, worries and thoughts about our caring role. As a result, we feel less alone.
When we don’t have family support
When we’re navigating the highs and lows of caring alone, it can be useful to explore our worries with a professional. Difficult feelings can linger if we don’t address them. It’s not always helpful to share them with the person we care for. With a therapist, we can talk about how looking after someone affects us. We can do this without feeling guilty about the person we care for overhearing.
When we have a personal crisis alongside carer duties
A personal crisis can strike at any time. it might involve the loss of a loved one, the breakdown of a relationship, illness, work worries or financial stress. When our personal life feels like it’s been upended, it can affect our ability to care. A therapist can provide support when both our carer duties and personal worries are weighing on our minds.
“My therapist is wonderful and has helped me get through some very tricky times over the last four years. It has enabled me to understand and handle my emotions, given me a deep insight into how childhood shapes so much of your behaviour and to know that the extreme feelings of anger and guilt I feel as a carer are absolutely normal emotions.”
What types of therapy are there?
Talking therapy can come in many different forms. A GP or trained therapist can help you to determine which type is best for you.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
Some people benefit from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is a type of practical therapy that reframes core beliefs and unhelpful thinking patterns - sometimes known as limiting beliefs. These are “beliefs” that feel true and make us feel worse. They often stem from our childhood. CBT can help us to gently challenge those limiting beliefs, so they feel less strong.
“I used to believe that ‘no-one ever listened to me’ - it was such a strong belief, I would see ‘evidence’ of it EVERYWHERE, and it used to make me so cross. CBT gently challenged that belief, letting in some ‘doubt’ about how true it was. This allowed me to notice all the times people did listen to me. Over time, my belief and the strong feeling attached to it, shrunk. It feels much better now.”
Other people might respond better to humanistic therapy. It’s a type of talking therapy that explores how our childhood and early experiences have shaped how we feel about ourselves. In all types of therapy, you’ll work with a trained professional.
Counselling versus therapy
Counselling and therapy sound the same, but they’re actually quite different. A counsellor helps us work through a current situation or difficulty. This could be helpful if we’re feeling unable to cope with our caring role. It’s usually a short-term arrangement that lasts for just a few weeks.
Therapy is a long-term process that digs deeper. A psychotherapist can help with long-standing difficulties. This could be childhood trauma or abuse that’s manifested in unhealthy present-day coping mechanisms. This can be useful if we feel like past hurt is standing in the way of our happiness and wellbeing.
“I was given 12 weeks of therapy by my husband’s Young Dementia team. It helped me let go of what I can’t change. It also helped me to not look too far ahead and just deal with the present one step at a time.”
What is a therapy session like - what will I talk about?
The first session with a therapist is usually an opportunity to get to know each other. A therapist might want to find out what brought us to therapy.
They’ll also look at any symptoms we’re experiencing. They’ll want to know about our therapy goals. This could be anything from less stress and better sleep, to a better relationship with the person we care for.
From here, the therapist will guide us in exploring specific problems, thoughts or traumas that were brought up in the first session. There’s no right or wrong way to speak to a therapist about this. As long as we’re being honest about what’s going on for us, they’ll be able to help find solutions.
Depending on our goals and the type of therapy, the longevity of treatment can differ. If the therapy is being provided by the NHS or a charity, the first call will often be used to determine how many sessions we will be offered. If we’re self-funding, there is more opportunity for longer-term support.
Techniques a therapist may use:
Mindfulness-based: Involves grounding in the present moment and being aware of the ‘here and now’
Behavioural: Looks at how we can change unhealthy behaviours
Cognitive: Helps us to connect the way we think and feel to how we act
Psychoanalytic: Focuses on working on past traumas that are rooted in the unconscious mind
Solution-focused: Looks at what we want to achieve now rather than looking back at the past
Dialectical: Helps us to find ways to accept ourselves and manage difficult emotions.
A therapy session normally can last anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes, with the average lasting around 50 minutes. They can be face to face, or online. Often the waiting lists are shorter, if we’re happy to have online sessions. If we struggle to get out of the house because of caring duties, online video sessions can make accessing therapy possible. It’s OK to be emotional around a therapist. Delving into our feelings can trigger sadness, upset, anger and frustration. We might cry or need a moment to breathe. Tapping into these emotions can help us to feel better and less overwhelmed in the long-run.
Self-Space has a useful list of questions to ask your therapist, before you start. Rest-assured too, certified therapists practise non-judgemental listening. They’re required to keep all of the information you discuss in your session private. The only exception is if they feel you or someone else may be at physical harm.
“It really helped when nursing dad in his final year and supporting mum. It gave me time out and a place to stop when I was rushing round in a mad frenzy. You need someone to just be there for you.”
Barriers to therapy
We may have additional barriers to accessing the help we need such as finding it difficult to talk on the phone at home. It might be hard for us to find somewhere private to talk, but it may also be difficult to leave the home for an appointment.
We have to get creative sometimes. To access a face-to-face session with a therapist at a practice, we’ll need to find a way of taking a break from our caring role. We know this isn’t always easy.
Our community have shared some ways in which they have been able to take short breaks:
Asking a friend or family member to sit with the person we care for (sometimes, we assume people will say ‘no’, so we don’t ask - but sometimes we might just get a pleasant surprise).
If we have the funds, we might consider some paid home care. Where a paid carer comes in and takes over for a while.
Our local council may be able to provide free home care if family or friends can’t help. We can see what we’re entitled to by requesting a Carer’s Assessment from our local social services department.
If getting to an appointment is still tricky, and talking on the phone isn’t an option, then there are some alternatives to talking therapy that might work better.
Funding options for therapy
What therapy is available on the NHS?
Anyone living in England, aged 18 or over, can access NHS psychological therapies (IAPT) services. These services offer free talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), counselling and guided self-help. They can specifically help with mental health issues like anxiety and depression too.
Waiting lists for NHS therapy can be very long. Expected wait times are around three months to start treatment, depending on the type of treatment and your availability.
What about private therapy?
Private therapy isn’t an option for everyone as it can be very costly. For those who can afford it, the benefit is that access to a therapist can be much quicker.
Private counsellors in the UK charge anywhere from £40 to £150 per session, which can vary in length. Therapy sessions can either be face-to-face or online.
There are lots of therapists out there so it’s worth doing some research to find one that’s reputable. Make sure to choose one that’s registered with a professional body. The Counselling Directory and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) websites are useful resources. They only list therapists who are certified and meet their high standards of proficiency and ethical practice.
If we’re neurodivergent ourselves, it’s worth asking about a therapist’s experience in supporting people with neurodivergent disabilities such as Autism or ADHD.
Do carers have access to free therapy?
Some carer services offer free counselling, where we can talk about specific issues facing us as carers.
Availability varies by region so it’s worth checking with our local carer service to see what is available nearby. We can search for our local carer service using the carers.org search function on their website.
Some community and charity sector organisations offer free or low-cost talking therapies. Check out Mental Health Matters, Anxiety UK, Cruse Bereavement Support who may be able to offer free counselling for mental health, grief and bereavement.
Are there any low-cost initiatives?
It’s also possible for carers to get low-cost counselling and psychotherapy from organisations who train practitioners. These low-fee sessions involve chatting to a therapist in training, so it’s worth bearing that in mind, although they are under strict supervision from the counselling school.
Try typing “cheap talking therapy with trainee near me” into Google, to see what’s available nearby.
Many organisations operate a means-related sliding scale of fees. This means we can pay based on our income. If we’re keen to apply, UKCN, CPPD and Guild of Psychotherapists are some good options to look into. UKCN offers affordable counselling services from £18 with no cap on the amount of sessions offered.
What can help me while I wait for therapy?
Getting mental health support can unfortunately be a long process.
Thankfully, there are tools, services and technology that can help in the meantime. If we’re signed up for CBT, we can get a head start by downloading a mindfulness app like Headspace or Calm. Acting as a therapist in our pocket, they teach tools and techniques for quieting a busy mind.
Wysa is another great app-based tool that offers 24/7 support. The anonymous chatbot uses AI and cognitive-behavioural techniques to listen and share advice. Users can confidentially share things that are on their mind. Wysa will then ask the right questions to help figure out the answers. There is no signup, so data stays private, secure and anonymous.
Our Mobilise Cuppas are a friendly place to share worries with other carers who understand. The free, 45-minute Zoom calls happen Monday to Friday, and there’s no need to pre-register. We can check out the cuppa timetable to find a time that works best for us.
We can also reach out for peer support (from other carers) in our online Mobilise Community.
If we need emergency support or feel at risk, we can also turn to organisations that have professionally staffed phone lines:
What if I don't like it?
It’s completely normal to be nervous about starting a therapy journey.
Telling the therapist about any worries or apprehension during the first session can help to ease the tension. We can share things at a speed that feels comfortable to us. There may be things we never want to discuss - and that’s OK too.
In some sessions, we might want to vent about our frustrations. In others, we might want impartial advice on how to deal with a tricky caring situation. Often, we’ll just want an hour to tell someone what we’re going through. Therapy can be whatever we want it to be.
A big part of reaping the benefits of therapy is finding a therapist we feel comfortable with. It takes time to build up a rapport. If after a few sessions, it still feels like it’s not the right match, there’s always the option of pausing our treatment and finding someone else. We can also stop therapy at any time.
Alternatives to talking therapy
Sometimes talking therapy just isn't right for us, and that’s OK. If we want more options to explore, here are a few ideas:
Journaling: Writing down our thoughts, fears and concerns can help us to process them. Read our carers guide to journaling if you're keen to try it out.
Art therapy: Uses drawing, painting and sketching as its main form of communication. This can be helpful if we have emotional trauma we find too distressing to talk about.
Self-help books: There are lots of brilliant personal development books with inspiring ideas on how we can feel better. Reading Well has a scheme called 'Books on Prescription' that recommends titles for specific mental health issues. It’s supported by most libraries so we can access the titles for free.
If our local library participates, The Libby App also allows us to download eBooks and audiobooks for free. This can save us money on apps like Audible. We can download the app to see if our library lends out their catalogue digitally.
Eco-therapy: Gardening can be a therapeutic tool against stress. If we don’t have a green space to tend to, we could pot some plants at home or try flower arranging. We could also volunteer for a local gardening project if we’re able to (Farmgarden can help us to find local initiatives).
Text-based support: We may logistically find it easier to text than chat on the phone. Shout has a 24/7 mental health textline that provides support. It’s free to text Shout 85258 from all major mobile networks in the UK.
“I like the idea of therapy, but struggle to ‘unpack’ all my emotional baggage on a timetable - and then pack it all back up in time for the school run. I find journaling is helping instead - I can do this in the evening in bed - when it’s OK to cry if I need to and I don’t need to be anywhere else. It’s really helped me to label emotions and work out my next step”
The bottom line
We should be assured that there’s no shame in seeking support for a mental health issue. Talking therapies can be one of the most effective ways of managing our thoughts. It’s a safe space to understand ourselves better and cope with the ups and downs that come with being a carer.
For those of us who have spent many years focusing on someone else, it can feel great to take action and put our own self-care first.
Have you ever spoken to a therapist when caring got overwhelming and did it help? We’d love to hear your thoughts so do get in touch with us.
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