Portland Therapy Blog

Portland Therapy Blog

Local experts share the latest information and resources on all things mental health.

How Counseling Can Help Family Caregivers

Posted: July 28, 2014 by gracemarian.ms@gmail.com

Caring for a family member who is unable to care for him or herself is one of the most stressful, challenging, and loving gifts you can offer another person. Caregiving can provide spiritual and relational rewards, but it can also tax your body, spirit, and emotions like few other efforts. Family caregivers require support from others and time for self-care, but all too often they become overwhelmed, isolated, and unable to get the help they need. A counselor can help family caregivers avoid these pitfalls.

Often, family caregivers are pushed into the role without an opportunity to prepare: a parent may have a medical emergency, such as a stroke or hip fracture, and her care needs fall upon a family member—most often a daughter or daughter-in-law—who has not had an opportunity to process how caregiving will impact her career, family, and other parts of her life. There may be career decisions to make—whether to leave a job, for example.

There may also be additional family stressors: you might have a spouse of children who need attention, or there may be a disagreement among siblings over care decisions. Or your family could be unsupportive, thinking you have “everything under control,” while you feel that you have little or no control over the situation. You may have your own health concerns and need to plan for how to care for yourself in this potentially stressful situation.

If you can relate to any of these scenarios, here are some ways that counseling can help:

  • Counseling can help you determine your boundaries—what you are willing and/or able to do and not do for the care receiver. For example, a caregiver may be comfortable with managing finances for a parent, but would prefer not to assist with personal care, such as bathing or using the toilet. It can help to talk it over with a neutral listener in order to make long-term plans for care that work for both you and the care receiver.
  • Caring for a parent or spouse can sometimes bring up difficult feelings and discomfort about changes in roles, especially if there is a history of discord or abuse in the relationship. Counseling can provide a confidential space for “venting”, and also for developing skills and strategies for managing your feelings about a challenging relationship.
  • A counselor can help you make a self-care plan. Self-care is essential to successful care giving and can include regular time-off, adequate sleep, a healthy diet, physical activity, time to pray or meditate, or spending time in nature—whatever renews you and helps you stay at your best.
  • A counselor may refer you to caregiver support groups, respite services, and other eldercare resources to get the help and support you need.
  • Seeing a counselor for regular support can help prevent caregiver burnout. Stress is to be expected when it comes to caring for another person, and without support and self-care it can lead to frustration, resentment, depression, and can even place the care receiver at risk.

Remember, self-care is not selfish! A counselor can help you make a plan and set goals to help both you and the care receiver stay healthy and safe.

Tags: relationship and family