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How to find a counsellor

Here are some options:

  1. See your GP, explain how you are feeling and ask what counselling services are available in your area. Your GP may need to refer you, or you may be able to self-refer.
  2. In some areas, you can self-refer directly without needing to see your GP. In England, you can search for your local NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT).
  3. If you’re a student, your university should have a student wellbeing department. Many of these offer free counselling, and the reason for your counselling does not have to directly relate to your studies.
  4. If you’re in work, your employer may have an Employee Assistance Helpline which may offer free counselling. As with student counselling, the reason for your counselling does not have to relate to or impact on your work.
  5. If you, or your partner, has private medical insurance, counselling sessions may be included as part of this package.
  6. Find and pay for a counsellor privately. Many offer reduced fees for people on low income, so don’t immediately discount it as an option if you have limited funds.

Counselling provided by the NHS, employee assistance programmes or universities may have a limit on the amount of sessions available. There may also be waiting lists, depending on the area and the service.

Counselling should always be confidential. An NHS counsellor should not pass their notes to your GP (unless you ask them to), a counsellor through an employee assistance programme should not tell your boss that you’re having sessions and a university counsellor should not be sharing information about what you’ve shared with your tutors or your parents. A counsellor should only break confidentiality if they are concerned someone is at risk of serious harm.

For siblings who face racism, it’s important that a counsellor understands how racism affects mental health. Read more about racism and mental health, including how to find culturally competent therapy from the mental health charity, Mind.

“It’s ok to want to talk about experiences of being a sibling, even if nothing terrible is happening – you might just feel a bit lonely with the experience and want to process how to develop a lasting adult relationship with your sibling and their care arrangements” – Adult sibling

“My counsellor helped me to make a connection between having a disabled sister (and how that had impacted on me) and experiencing depression and anxiety later in life, particularly after becoming a parent. She helped me to understand my own behavioural traits better” – Adult sibling

Finding a private counsellor

The terms ‘counsellor’, ‘therapist’ and ‘psychotherapist’ are often used to describe similar services in the UK. It can feel a bit daunting searching for someone to begin with, so take your time and read up on what you need to.

  1. Search online using accredited directories –such as the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) as they will only list counsellors with professional memberships.
  2. Narrow down the searchwith words like ‘family’, ‘relationships’, ‘disability’, and ‘autism’ if these are relevant for you. A counsellor with a background in these areas may be beneficial.
  3. Search by postcode if you would prefer to have sessions face-to-face. Consider the distance you are able to travel. You may feel a bit worn out after a session, so it is worth thinking about the time and distance you’re prepared to go. Many counsellors also offer sessions over video calls.
  4. Read more about the type of therapy someone offers on the UKCP website. You can also call the UKCP for further advice.

“Although I faced many challenges growing up with a disabled sibling, I often felt other siblings had more demanding/challenging aspects to their daily lives. Due to this, I often felt I wasn’t eligible for counselling as ‘others had it worse’ which looking back was only hindering me more. No matter how you feel, your feelings are valid and you deserve support” – Adult sibling

“Earlier this year, I made the decision to have Talking Therapies CBT as well as counselling to enable me to process the traumatic memories I have relating to my brother’s mistreatment in the first ever residential placement he ever lived in (he lived at home until he was 39 years old). I found both the CBT and counselling very helpful. Each day now,  I practise worry time regarding any practical and hypothetical worries I have for my brother.” – Adult sibling

What to ask a private counsellor

  1. Most counsellors offer a short, free, phone consultation. Make use of this, and ask as many questions as you would like. Everyone is different and it’s important to find someone you feel comfortable with and who is a good fit for your needs.
  2. Always ask a counsellor about the training and qualifications they have. There is no legislation that regulates counsellors – anyone can set up a website and decide to offer this service. Training courses can vary, from a few months to a few years.
  3. Ask about the cost and length of sessions. Sessions are usually between 50-60 minutes and cost between £40-£70. Many counsellors offer reduced fees for people on low income, so do ask about this if you need it.
  4. Ask them about their experience of working with siblings or more generally with families where a person has a disability. If they don’t have any experience in this area, then it’s not necessarily a barrier to you seeing them. What’s important is that they are willing to listen and to understand.

It is OK to try out a few counsellors before finding one to have ongoing sessions with. Every counsellor is different, and it’s important that you have someone you feel comfortable with.

“I definitely felt exhausted/emotional/drained after each session! So it’s definitely important to think about how you’ll get home safely (if seeing the therapist in person), and what you have planned to do immediately after the session – e.g. you may need some down-time to ‘decompress’, rather than going straight into another activity.” – Adult sibling

“Having counselling has had a beneficial impact on how I think and feel about my family relationships, and allowed me to move forward in terms of dealing with my feelings of guilt, sadness and loss associated with my brother’s disability” – Adult sibling

“I was largely unaware of my need for therapeutic help / clarity about my situation as I’ve grown up thinking that this is how things have always been – I’ve always ‘accepted’ it, it’s just ‘normal’ to me – but I went to counselling for general anxiety and it really did help me to make sense of my family situation and how it had affected me” – Adult sibling

Speak up for your needs as a sibling

Siblings are used to coming second (or third, or fourth…) to the needs of another. Whilst siblings are often used to advocating for the needs of their disabled brother or sister, it can be challenging for them to speak up for their own needs.

When you first meet a counsellor (whether you found them through the NHS, your employer or privately) it’s OK to ask them to read pages of the Sibs website or our eBook to understand sibling issues more widely and to have that context

If your counsellor doesn’t have experience of sibling issues, it’s important that they’re willing to listen and understand. If they don’t, it’s OK for you to stop seeing them and ask to be seen by someone else.

“I showed the counsellor a photo of my sibling which I believe helped them to understand the impact of having a disabled sibling a bit more – especially when it’s a rare disability that they’ve not heard of” – Adult sibling

“The first person I spoke didn’t seem to completely understand my situation and therefore it felt a bit frustrating. I felt very misunderstood.” – Adult sibling

Waiting for counselling

Being on a waiting list for NHS or private counselling can be hard. You know the support is on it’s way but you might already be in a place where you urgently need to speak to someone.

Siblings of a person with a lifelong disability are used to comparing themselves to someone who “has a more difficult life”. Siblings may also have had this reinforced by parents and other family members, who in a well-meaning way, might have said things like “Just look at how lucky you are compared to your sister”. These kind of comments can make it hard for siblings to seek support because they are worried they are taking the place of someone else who needs it more.

Please call one of these helplines when you need to talk. 

You deserve support, your feelings are valid and they are just as important as anyone else’s.

Suicide prevention

  • National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK. Offers a supportive listening service to anyone with thoughts of suicide. Phone 0800 689 5652 (open 6pm – 3.30am everyday)
  • Papyrus HOPELINEUK. If you’re under 35 and struggling with suicidal feelings phone 0800 068 4141 (open 9am – midnight everyday), email or text 07860 039967

You are not alone and you deserve support.


Sibs would like to thank all the adult siblings on our reader panel who generously shared their time and experiences to help develop this page. Interested in joining our reader panel? Click here to find out more.

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