Carers are often too wrapped up in their duties to think about their needs. Amy Taylor reports on a London project that offers counselling to help them regain some independence
The principle of promoting independence is widely recognised as best practice within adult services, but for many carers the idea of freedom from their caring role is inconceivable.
A pilot project in Kensington and Chelsea, run by charity wpf Counselling & Psychotherapy and funded by the council, aims to address this and help carers regain a sense of having at least some independence.
The project, which began in early 2007 and is now ending, involves carers of older people and people with mental health problems receiving weekly counselling over a 12-week period after being referred by social services. It is not yet clear if it is set to be repeated but has had positive results.
Roseline Okiti, a mental health carers support and development worker at the council, has been working with carers in the borough since 2004 and says the service has been required for some time. “Carers told me they were on the waiting list for their GP [in order to get help] and sometimes it was for 18 months,” she says.
Liz Marriner, a staff counsellor at wpf who leads the project, says many carers are so used to the focus being on the person they care for that it is difficult for them to contemplate anything else. “The idea of receiving something exclusive to them is almost unbelievable at first,” she says.
Persuading carers that they need time for themselves is one of the most difficult issues. The service worked with 19 carers last year and has had referrals for six more this year, but take-up has been lower than the 45 anticipated.
Initially, carers are asked to fill out a questionnaire looking at their well-being and the emotional impact caring has had on them. “It’s a very useful starting point for us and obviously for them,” Marriner says.
Problems that people come to the service with include depression, difficulties managing their relationship with the person they care for and difficulties managing other relationships.
Marriner says: “At the beginning of the sessions there’s a conversation about what the client would like and how they see the work progressing. For carers that can be very difficult. For a carer to have enough sense of themself to know what they want is part of the dilemma that underpins the work that we do.”
A large part of the work is about helping carers to identify why it is so difficult to allow themselves to have a partly independent life. The service takes a psychodynamic approach that is based on the idea that patterns of experience from infancy and childhood are unconsciously repeated in current relationships. Current problems may be partly due to early experiences and recognising that these are key to trying to overcome them.
Marriner says that keeping the end in sight is crucial in time-limited work and that a focus must be decided on and stuck to. The project emphasises to clients that the service will be available for 12 weeks, which helps participants deal with the sessions ending.
Despite the reluctance of some carers to seek help, those who have taken part in the service would definitely recommend it to others. “We know they will walk out much stronger because they have been heard and attended to. We see them leave and know that they are in a better place than they probably were before,” says Marriner.
Contact the author
This article appeared in the 10 April issue under the headline “Pause for thought”