Talking therapies

5. How can talking therapies help carers?

Caring for a family member or close friend with dementia is often stressful. While some carers report positive feelings of fulfilment from helping the person, many experience feelings of loss, sadness, grief, guilt or anger. Carers of people with dementia also experience high levels of anxiety and depression. Talking therapies for carers can help in all of these areas.

Talking therapies may help family and carers to explore their feelings in confidence, as well as providing extra support outside their network of friends and family. This can be especially important at times when decisions are being made about how to look after a person with dementia.

Counselling

Counselling can help carers to be more aware of how their own behaviours towards the person with dementia will affect how that person feels and acts, both positively and negatively. If the carer is stressed and becomes short-tempered with the person, they are more likely to develop feelings of anxiety, depression or problematic behaviours as a result.

For carers who are depressed, telephone counselling has been shown to be an effective option. Counselling over the phone may fit in with a person's caring responsibilities more conveniently than face-to-face sessions.

Dementia affects relationships between partners greatly and some people benefit from relationship counselling or couple therapy for depression. This can be with either partner separately or both together, but the focus is on improving difficulties within the relationship. (The organisation Relate offers relationship counselling - see 'Other useful organisations' below for details.)

Psychotherapy

There is good evidence that psychotherapies reduce distress in carers of people with dementia. This evidence is strongest for face-to-face or telephone CBT targeted at carers with depression and tailored to the individual and their circumstances. Carers who learn more about dementia, depression, anxiety and changes in behaviours - for example, through a structured group programme - also generally experience less distress and are better equipped to cope with their situation.

Former carers or care workers may benefit from talking therapies as well. They may feel lost or sad when the person they have cared for moves away from them or dies. After the caring relationship ends, it may be difficult to move on, to recover from the loss and to accept a new and different role. Talking therapies may help a former carer to accept the past and look ahead to the future. Some talking therapies, such as bereavement counselling or bereavement CBT, are specifically aimed at helping people come to terms with the loss of someone close to them.