Unlocking the door to coaching unpaid carers

The following was originally shared as an article on Linked In as part of International Coaching week 2020. We followed it up with an online discussion with other coaches who had experience of coaching carers.

It feels like a door has been unlocked and what is inside the room is more colourful and wonderful than I imagined.....

Suzanne is Head of Carer Support at Mobilise, the tech start up by carers and for carers. She cares for her husband Matt who was diagnosed with Young Onset Parkinson’s Disease 17 years ago. Mobilise are offering 30 minute 1-1 coaching sessions as part of a package of support for unpaid carers.


International Coaching Week (4-10 May 2020) is an annual celebration of the power and impact of professional coaching so what better time to share some success?  It has been a complete privilege to witness the power and impact of coaching on unpaid carers through Covid-19 and for me it feels like a personal breakthrough.  Photo by jordan Huie on Unsplash


Who are unpaid carers?

Before I dive in, just to bring in to focus who I mean by “unpaid carers”.  There are over 7 Million unpaid carers in the UK.  NHS England gives the following definition. 

A carer is anyone, including children and adults who looks after a family member, partner or friend who needs help because of their illness, frailty, disability, a mental health problem or an addiction and cannot cope without their support. The care they give is unpaid.

Not everyone who cares for someone will call themselves a carer.  I was caring for at least 8 years before I would have called myself a carer.  We are looking after a loved one, supporting someone, or just doing what anyone else would do.


What are the challenges for carers through Covid-19?


For many of us the corona virus pandemic has added another layer of complexity to life, some are on the verge of crisis.  Caring for a vulnerable person whilst isolating or shielding can be tough and lonely.  Add in work, getting shopping and medication alongside withdrawal (or withdrawing from) support services such as visiting care workers, day centres or care homes and the challenges start to mount up.

Carers Uk report Caring Behind Closed Doors identified that 70% of carers are providing more care than before and that 55% feel overwhelmed and are worried they are going to burn out in the next few weeks.


What topics do people bring to their coaching sessions?


Every carer situation is unique but there have been some common themes:

  • Solving challenges that appear to have no easy answer

  • Planning ahead for emergencies “what if something happens to me?”

  • Carer well-being and working out what that means to them.

  • Dealing with change in their caring role and other parts of their life.


What has been the impact and power of coaching for unpaid carers?


For many, having a safe space to talk about themselves whilst someone listens deeply is a huge relief, being able to lay out the issues, step back a moment and breathe starts to unlock potential and resilience.  There is a lightening of the load.


Some arrive with a sense of fear about the corona virus situation.  Recognising the power that words like “extremely vulnerable” can have and how our vision of reality and the future has been influenced by this has been a turning point .  When we stop to look at what reliable information we have at hand and how we can build on this to create a more informed picture of reality the future doesn’t look quite so bleak.  Discerning the difference between being realistic and sensibly planning for the future versus battling a situation that  isn’t a current reality has been important.


At the end of a session we will briefly reflect back, the following simple questions have been powerful -  What have you learnt about yourself?  What is different now?  How has the situation changed?  Carers see hidden strengths, new options and even opportunity.


What do Mobilise offer to unpaid carers?


1-1 coaching sessions have been just one part of what Mobilise offer.  We create safe spaces to talk through Mobilise Cuppas for Carers and the Mobilise Community Facebook Group.  Our regular e-support package delivers carer informed content in bite-sized chunks.


Coaching principles are evident through all of our work.  We recognise that carers are resourceful and value being part of a community which they can shape and contribute to.  Having a goal orientated focus, reflecting on learning and working with the whole person not just their identity as a carer underpin our work.  This avoids any sense of being “done to” and instead focuses on unlocking potential and empowering carers.  This links into the strengths-based approach now being adopted by many carers centres and local authorities.


The personal breakthrough


As a coach that has set her heart on coaching carers it has been a significant journey to get to this point.  It feels like a door has been unlocked and what is inside the room is more colourful and wonderful than I imagined. 


What comes next?


If you know someone who is caring for someone please do recommend Mobilise . Keep in touch by signing up to our regular e-support package.


If you are a coach or practitioner supporting carers join me and other coaches in a conversation about our work.  We will be sharing our successes, learning and next steps in an online event on Monday 11th May at 10am, drop me an email and I'll send you an invitation.  suzanne@mobiliseonline.co.uk

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