Caregiver Therapy

Also known as: Caregiver Counseling

Last Updated: October 20, 2020

Written by the Open Caregiving Team. Editorial review by Joyce O. Murphy RN, MSN.

What is caregiver therapy?

Caregiver therapy lets caregivers have a safe place to speak with a trained specialist. The purpose is to relieve the emotional burden, anxiety, and loneliness that can accompany caring for a friend or family member.

Who can benefit from caregiver therapy?

Many caregivers benefit from having a trained professional to speak with throughout the caregiving process. Watch for signs that it may be time to seek therapy or counseling. You may feel overwhelmed or utterly exhausted because of:

  • Anger or frustration: You have a shorter fuse than usual. Even small annoyances get under your skin.
  • Stress: You feel like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Your back hurts, or your stomach is in knots, among other things.
  • Anxiety: For some reason your worries have grown. You want to do everything the right way, but sometimes have doubts.
  • Fear: This is like anxiety in overdrive. You’re afraid you’ll harm your loved one or yourself by making a mistake. Likely falling asleep at the wrong time.
  • Depression: Some people call it “the blues.” These are new and you can’t shake them. Plus, you feel like crying or wishing you could.
  • Grief or sadness: This can happen when you anticipate losing the person for whom you are caring. It’s not fair how ill they are or how much they are suffering.
  • Guilt: This crops up when you just want more time for yourself. You want to go to lunch with friends, or linger in your favorite store. It seems selfish to even think that way.
  • Isolation or loneliness: Even though you know other people are caregivers too, you feel alone. Like nobody else really knows what it’s like to have so much responsibility. And when you try to talk about it, all you get is advice.
  • Physical strain or exhaustion: Some days it’s an effort to do the simplest tasks. Even the ones you used to love, like baking a favorite treat. Even a full night of sleep won’t take care of how you feel.

Caregiver therapy helps to prevent or reduce issues that arise when caring for someone, such as:

  • Burnout: Signs of caregiver burnout include emotional exhaustion. You might feel like you are becoming removed from your loved one. Like just going through the motions.
  • Physical health conditions: Aches and pains you haven’t had in a long time. Or headaches, stomach aches, trouble catching your breath, and palpitations.
  • The return or worsening of a pre-existing illness: Examples are when blood pressure or blood sugar that were under control start going up despite being on medication.
  • Hypertension: In this case, a person never had a problem with their blood pressure. Now, all of a sudden, it’s moved into the worrisome zone.
  • Trouble sleeping & fatigue: This includes not being able to fall asleep or stay asleep. Sometimes the fatigue is so bad a person is afraid to drive because they may nod off behind the wheel.
  • Headaches: These can vary, from tension to cluster, and migraines. They start up, increase, and often come out of nowhere.
  • A weakened immune system: In the past you rarely got sick. Now, you get a cold every few months. Or feel like you have a virus. This is due to an over-stressed immune system.
  • Substance abuse: Some days there’s no way to get away from all there is to do. It’s never ending. But having a drink, taking a pill, or something else dulls things for a while. Then one leads to another, so it’s time to talk with somebody who will really listen.

How does therapy help?

Therapy or counseling with a skilled professional gives you emotional support because you feel heard. You are treated respectfully and what you share stays between the two of you. Working with a counselor will help you to:

  • Make sense of your emotions: you start to feel relieved as you learn other people go through the same thing.
  • Learn about areas of improvement: prevent burnout and learn to communicate better with your loved ones.
  • Discuss uncomfortable topics: talk about things that you may not want to bring up with family or friends.
  • Receive unbiased advice and tips: get feedback that helps you make better decisions and make self-care a priority.
  • Develop healthier relationships: Learn to take steps that lead to healthier relationships with your loved ones and yourself.

To learn more about how therapy may help you, keep reading on HelpGuide.org.

What are the different types of caregiver therapy?

  • Individual Therapy is individual sessions with a certified therapist, counselor, or psychologist.
    • This professional focuses on your caregiving role and your emotions.
    • Your areas of strength are called upon to boost areas where you feel unsure or reactive.
  • Caregiver Family Therapy is used when a family’s functioning can be helped by therapy sessions.
    • You meet together with your therapist to uncover and work on issues within your family system.
    • You focus on matters that can interfere with a caregiver’s ability to provide compassionate care for family members.
  • Caregiver Group Therapy is typically run by a professional therapist or qualified counselor with specific training in group therapy.
    • They guide the group of caregivers through different activities and exercises. These help people in the group to build trust as they learn about each other’s feelings and challenges.
    • Caregivers learn what they have in common and how each person’s story is unique.
  • Pastoral Counseling combines theology and spiritual approaches with typical therapy.
    • Pastoral counseling may incorporate prayer, scripture study, and connection with your faith community to uncover healing, growth and direction. This is done in addition to more traditional counseling methods.

What is the difference between caregiver group therapy and a support group?

Unlike caregiver group therapy, caregiver support groups are often guided by a former caregiver or someone with similar experience. This person is not a certified professional like a therapist. A support group’s value comes from group discussion rather than structured exercises and activities.

What are the different types of therapists?

  • Psychologists usually have a doctoral degree (Ph.D or Psy.D) and specialize in how a person’s thoughts and behaviors relate to their mental health.
    • Their role is to support a person who is taking steps toward positive change.
    • Psychologists are not allowed to prescribe medication but can recommend a patient to visit with a psychiatrist.
    • Psychologists must hold a license in the state that they practice.
  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors (MDs) who specialize in treating the mental and physical aspects of mental and emotional health through psychotherapy.
    • They sometimes prescribe medication.
    • Psychiatrists must hold a license in the state in which they practice.
  • Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) or Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC) have a masters degree in counseling as well as state required training and certification.
    • They typically help individuals develop coping strategies and techniques to improve their mental health.
    • Independent practice usually requires a state license.
  • Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW or Clinical Social Worker) have a masters degree in social work and provide counseling treatments and resources for individuals and families.
    • Independent practice usually requires a state license.
  • Pastoral Counselors usually have graduate level degrees in both theology and psychology and must meet specific requirements based on their religious group.
    • To be certified by the American Association of Pastoral Counselors they must hold a Master in Divinity degree.
    • Certification and licensure varies by state.

How much does therapy cost?

Therapy and counseling can range from hundreds of dollars an hour to being free. This is based on your income level, family needs, and the programs available in your area. See below for where you can find affordable therapy options that work for you.

Are there affordable therapy options for caregivers?

Here are the places to look for affordable therapy options:

  • Your local Area Agency on Aging may have therapy or counseling resources available in your area.
  • Your health insurance provider may cover a certain amount of in-network therapy monthly. Medicare should cover mental health for most recipients. Reach out to your provider or your primary care physician for a referral.
  • Your primary care physician may be able to make a referral to an affordable therapist or group therapy option.
  • Low-cost therapy or sliding scale therapy may be an option. If you cannot access therapy through your health insurance provider, search for therapists using the tools listed below. Inquire about sliding scale payments that allow low-income individuals to pay reduced rates based on what they can afford. Here are some places to find therapist:
  • Your employer may offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that will provide you with counseling for major or stressful life events. Reach out to your Human Resources or Benefits department to inquire.
  • Medical and home health providers like hospice or hospitals may offer grief and caregiver counseling or group therapy.

What are the best online therapy options?

Other affordable online therapy services include:

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