How to find a counsellor
Many siblings find that the experience of growing up with a disabled brother or sister has shaped who they are as an adult. Being a sibling may have impacted the way you approach life, how you think and feel about things, your job, where you live and your relationships. Some siblings may have had traumatic experiences growing up too. Talking doesn’t change what has happened but it can change how you feel about it. As an adult, this can help you going forward and stop you from being held back by habits or feelings that might be limiting how you live your life.
Do you need urgent help? Click here to ‘Get help now’ (from Mind, the mental health charity)
How to find a counsellor
Here are some options:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Search online for faith-based organisations that may offer free or low-cost counselling. For example, the Muslim Women’s Network offer free telephone counselling and Inspirited Minds is charity that offers low-cost counselling predominantly to people of Islamic faith.
- Black Minds Matter connects Black individuals and families with free mental health services by professional Black therapists to support their mental health.
- If you, or your partner, has private medical insurance, counselling sessions may be included as part of this package.
- 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.
Are you looking for support following a specific incident?
If your disabled brother or sister has experienced abuse or neglect, this will have had a major impact on them. It may also have had an impact on you, and many siblings contact us seeking counselling support specifically following an incident, or chain of incidents.
- Read our advice on Dealing with trauma after abuse
- Contact the Respond family support service. Respond is a charity aiming to lessen the effect of trauma and abuse on people with learning disabilities their families and supporters. Services include face-to-face or telephone counselling and groups in which families can meet and be supported by other families and better cope with their experiences. Families feel better understood, less isolated and more connected.
“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
“Growing up with a disabled sister meant that my parents worried a lot about her health, and while I’m sure they didn’t mean for this to happen, I started to feel bad about my own health – like survivor guilt, almost. I think my eating disorder was directly influenced by the environment I was in and the messages I received. It was part self-punishment but also a way of proving that I had needs, and I wasn’t always “okay” like other people seemed to think” – 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.
- Search online using a directory such as:
UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) (lists accredited members)
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) (lists accredited members)
And/or search for directories that are based on your heritage, such as The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network (largest community of Counsellors and Psychotherapists of Black, African, Asian and Caribbean Heritage) or based on your faith, such as The Muslim Counsellor and Psychotherapy Network.
- Narrow down the search with words like ‘family’, ‘relationships’, ‘disability’, and ‘autism’ if these are relevant for you. A counsellor with a background in these areas may be beneficial.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Ask about the cost and length of sessions. Sessions are usually between 50-60 minutes and cost between £50 – £120. Many counsellors offer reduced fees for people on low income, so do ask about this if you need it.
- 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.
- To talk about anything that is troubling you, call Samaritans on 116 123 any time of day or night or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Prefer to text? Use the ‘Give us a shout’ text service. Text ‘Shout’ to 85258 to talk about your feelings, at any time of day or night
- If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, you can call Switchboard on 0300 330 0630 (10am–10pm every day), email email@example.com or use their webchat service. All phone operators identify as LGBT+.
- CALM (for men). Phone line 0800 58 58 58, open 5pm – midnight. Webchat service here
- If you’re under 25, you can phone The Mix on 0808 808 4994 (3pm–midnight every day), text THEMIX to 85258 (available 24/7), request support by email using this form or use the webchat service here. There’s also the Muslim Youth Helpline – call or WhatsApp 0808 808 2008 (4pm – 10pm every day), or use the webchat service here.
- If you’re over 55, you can phone The Silver Line for older people. Call anytime on 0800 4 70 80 90
- If you live in Wales, you can call the Community Advice and Listening Line (C.A.L.L.) on 0800 132 737 (open 24/7) or you can text ‘help’ followed by a question to 81066
- If you live in Scotland, you can phone Breathing Space Scotland on 0800 83 85 87 (open Mon-Thurs 6pm-2am; Fri-Mon 6pm – 6am) or use the webchat service
- If you live in Northern Ireland, you can phone Lifeline on 0808 808 8000 (open 24/7)
- Search online for faith-based helplines, such as Helpline (Jewish) and The Sikh Helpline
- You can also search for other types of mental health support in your local area on the Hub of Hope website
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.