You’re not alone. Today, more than one in five Americans are caregivers, and more than half of these caregivers feel their role gives them a sense of purpose and meaning. If you’re reading this, you’re probably one of them.
Caregiving does indeed give us the honor of supporting a loved one during their most vulnerable times when they need us the most. For many of us, this is a core value, and caring for our loved one is something we want to do—and do so willingly, without question.
This doesn’t mean that caregiving comes without challenges, however—steep challenges.
Caretaking carries heavy responsibility, and stress, anxiety and frustration can accompany that pressure. If unchecked, it’s common (and understandable!) for these feelings to quickly grow into anger, resentment and even depression.
Although not all caregivers experience clinical depression, many of us still struggle with feelings of isolation and inadequacy. Whether you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or not, counseling can help you understand and cope with the tumultuous feelings you experience daily. Counseling can allow you to:
- Work through difficult emotions specific to caregiving, such as anxiety, fear, anger, bitterness, shame, guilt, helplessness and anticipatory grief
- Prevent clinical depression
- Develop coping skills
- Adopt feelings of empowerment and control
As a caregiver, you can seek counseling in a variety of ways. The most common forms include individual therapy, Caregiver Family Therapy (CFT), caregiver support groups, and group therapy. Regardless of which route you choose, you won’t be alone: In fact, in a SeniorsMatter study of more than 2,000 caregivers, 71% reported they seek emotional support by talking with a counselor or mental health professional.
Benefits of individual therapy
Individual therapy, often called psychotherapy, is a collaborative approach to understanding and coping with strong emotions and developing healthier and more effective habits. Most call this type of therapy “talk therapy” because that’s precisely what you do: You talk to your therapist in a supportive and safe environment. The therapist is trained to be objective, neutral and nonjudgmental; they apply scientifically validated procedures to help you change the thought and behavior patterns that are troublesome to you.
There are several types of psychotherapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical-behavioral therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and other kinds of talk therapy. Regardless of the type you choose, individual therapy will be a collaborative treatment; you and your therapist will become a team. Together, you will overcome your challenges and learn new skills to better cope with your future challenges.
Different types of professionals can serve as therapists. Although trained in different ways for varying lengths of time, every kind of therapist has a commonality: They’re here to help you.
- Psychologists usually have a doctoral degree (PhD or PsyD) and specialize in a person’s thoughts and behaviors.
- Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) or Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC) have a master’s degree in counseling and state-required training and certification.
- Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW or Clinical Social Worker) have a master’s degree in social work and state-required training, certification and continuing education.
Individual therapy is tremendously effective. Research shows that three out of four people (75%) gain some benefit from psychotherapy, so you really can’t go wrong.
Benefits of Caregiver Family Therapy (CFT)
Caregiver Family Therapy (CFT) is a type of therapy designed specifically for caregivers and their families, especially those who care for older family members who need assistance due to cognitive or chronic health problems. It’s built around the very issues you address each day. You can start CFT regardless of the stage of care your loved one is in or their diagnosis. A CFT therapist is trained to help restore healthy family dynamics and mobilize family assistance for the primary caregiver and also for the older loved one. They approach the whole family’s needs and work to transform relationships to be more conducive for family caregiving.
Benefits of support groups and group therapy
Both support groups and group therapy consist of people in similar situations (i.e., caregivers) who meet together to improve their mental health and well-being. The key difference between the two is that the goal of support groups is to cope, while the goal of group therapy is to change a habit or behavior. Depending on your circumstances, one or the other may be more beneficial to you. Regardless, both have similar benefits:
- Increase social support to decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness.
- Learn from the experiences of other caregivers so you can maintain your physical and mental health and keep your loved one at home longer.
- Learn caregiving skills from those who have been where you are at.
- Know what to expect from caregivers who are further along on the caregiving journey.
- Obtain valuable validation of your difficult thoughts and emotions from other caregivers who understand.
- Find strength in the stories and successes of others.
Telehealth or in-person therapy?
Until recently, in-person therapy has been the “gold standard” of counseling services. However, this quickly changed in 2020, when more than 90% of the U.S. population was under stay-at-home orders. Telehealth became the only option available to many in need of mental health care. In fact, Medicare, Medicaid, private insurance companies, and state and federal regulatory agencies adapted their rules to accommodate this change.
Does telehealth really work?
The short answer is yes; it absolutely works. Recent research is finding it might work even better than in-person therapy. Telehealth therapy, which includes care delivered via phone, video or both, lowers the initial barriers to seeking therapy and has higher retention rates, meaning people are more likely to stick to it.
“What we’ve seen is that telehealth is essentially just as effective as face-to-face psychotherapy—and retention rates are higher,” says David Mohr, PhD, director of the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who has spent his career studying telepsychology and digital mental health.
So, if you’re on the fence about which option to take, simply think about which option you would be most comfortable with. Most therapists offer both options.
When to get help
It’s common to neglect yourself when you’re busy caring for somebody else. Often, caregivers won’t realize the impact of self-neglect until their own health and well-being start to suffer. These signs of caregiver stress indicate that caregiver counseling may be helpful for you:
- Feeling overwhelmed or constantly worried
- Feeling tired often
- Getting too much sleep or not enough sleep
- Gaining or losing weight
- Becoming easily irritated or angry
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Feeling sad
- Having frequent headaches, bodily pain or other physical problems
- Abusing alcohol or drugs, including prescription medications
And remember, anyone can struggle with thoughts of suicide. If that’s the case with you, help is just a click away. Visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 800-273-8255.
How to find the right counselor for you
If you’ve already completed the hardest step – deciding to seek counseling – congratulations on investing in yourself and your own well-being. We encourage you to use the following resources to find a counselor or therapist that’s right for you.
- Find the right therapist for you
- Find affordable therapy
- For help close to home, visit the NAMI HelpLine and Healthline’s FindCare
Other resources include:
We hope you take the steps you need for self-care, whatever these steps are for you. You can’t fully help your loved one until you help yourself.
Or, as Maya Angelou so elegantly stated, “As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”