Relate – Brighton and Districts

Relate’s role is to help people build better relationships. It received a £2,500 grant from our Marit and Hans Rausing and our Arthur and Doreen Green Funds to deliver 100 counselling sessions to meet current local demand from carers.  It covered costs of staff, premises, promotion and marketing, travel and general administration.

The unpaid role of the carer is vital in looking after parents, children and partners in need of help because they are ill, frail, have disabilities or are in the final stages of terminal illness. Very often the needs and anxieties of the carers are overlooked and research shows that they can experience mental health problems, anxiety, depression, loss of identity, loss of confidence and low self-esteem.

Through Relate counselling, carers can enjoy a more positive future with a life outside their caring role, whilst continuing to care. They become less isolated and more socially motivated as counselling enables them to have the freedom to talk through their difficulties. A recent Carers UK study calculated that carers save the NHS £220 million a year; one in eight adults in the UK are carers. In East Sussex, this is equivalent to over 32,000 people.

In order to help these carers ethically and effectively, Relate wished to provide more counselling sessions from specially trained counsellors. Funding is crucial to provide much-needed counselling to carers now that the PCT has withdrawn funding.

One couple to benefit from the funding is Geoffrey and Evelyn who had been married for 55 years when they went to Relate…

Geoffrey and Evelyn’s story

As they told their counsellor later, when Geoffrey and Evelyn made their initial appointment at Relate, they had felt anxious and ashamed, unsure how they might be able to say to a stranger what needed to be said. Geoffrey was 78 and Evelyn 79 and they had been married for 55 years. They came from a generation that did not easily discuss personal things and, in particular, they did not discuss sexual things. Geoffrey was in excellent health, enjoyed golf (when he could find time for it) but Evelyn had suffered several strokes and required much personal care from Geoffrey as she had balance problems, weakness along the right side, together with urinary incontinence which was managed with a catheter.

At first, Evelyn said little, causing the counsellor to wonder whether there might be significant cognitive impairment. Geoffrey spoke of their long and strong relationship which had brought up two sons and now gave them six grandchildren. Throughout their marriage, he said tentatively, sex had been important to both of them and enjoyable.  However, as her health became more fragile and his role as carer grew, Evelyn had stopped wanting sex. This was a loss in addition to all the other losses, such as carefree holidays and working together on their garden.

The counsellor turned her attention to Evelyn and invited her to say how she was feeling. In her halting manner, Evelyn said that she felt very sad because she just did not feel sexy anymore. The counsellor said she was not at all surprised that she did not feel sexy when she had so much to manage, and this was a big loss to both of them. Evelyn felt understood and went on to say that the bedroom had become ‘like a nursing home with wheelchair, hoist and boxes of tubes and pills everywhere’. Evelyn’s eyes filled with tears, as she remembered and described better times including the wonderful gold-coloured silk nightie Geoffrey had given her on their 50th anniversary. Now she only wore pyjamas. Now she slept alone in a single bed which could be adjusted to aid her sleeping comfort. 

The counsellor asked if they had a spare room and whether it might be possible to make a special place there with some music, low lighting and special things from their years together including, of course, the special nightie. Could it be a place without the signs of a nursing home? This could be a place they visited from time to time and spent time on the bed cuddling and feeling the connection they have always had. The couple began to discuss between themselves what could be managed, and came to feel that separating themselves from the carer/patient role – if only now and then – would help. 

Several weeks later, Geoffrey and Evelyn returned to the counsellor to report that they had managed the ‘nest-making’ in their spare room and, that when Geoffrey helped Evelyn into her nightie in ‘the other room’, it was as though they could see each other with ageless eyes. In ‘the other room’,  they felt equal and the memories of other times helped them to create new memories of two people who shared much and could still excite each other.

 The counsellor who was one of Relate’s trained psychosexual therapists recognised that, this couple needed only permission to give their sexual relationship value and space, and some specific suggestions to manage the practical difficulties they faced.  Geoffrey and Evelyn did not think they needed to attend again. Some months later, the counsellor received a card with a message that signalled to her that all was well.

This case study contains themes and principles which are entirely factual but names and other detailed information which could identify the couple has been invented in the interest of client confidentiality.