• The focus of counseling often varies; however, commonly discussed issues among older adults include the loss of loved ones, health issues, and identity crises.
  • Many of these individuals have lost a spouse, are facing severe physical or mental health issues, or are missing fulfillment and enjoyment in life.
  • Older adults face unique challenges when it comes to receiving counseling; first, they have trouble asking for help as they’re taught that therapy is for “crazy people.”
  • Additionally, providers often don’t take their insurance (especially in the case of Medicare) which stands between the older adult and receiving mental health services.
  • Despite these barriers, older individuals can find success in therapy especially if they maintain a positive mindset as they begin this journey.

Focuses of Counseling for Older Adults

As with counseling for any other age group, the focus can vary from person to person. That said, common issues among older individuals include the following:

  • Loss of a spouse
  • Health issues
  • Identity crisis

Licensed Psychologist Dr. Sherrie Campbell delves into these issues: “Older adults are usually retired or close to retirement so what they focus on is different. For many of them, they have lost a spouse, they may be facing health issues and issues with defining who they are as older adults,” she explains. “Life tends to have more meaning for older adults, and they appreciate life more than they used to. Some find that as they get older, they think more negatively, and the world seems to be rushing along at too fast a pace. Others, see their older adulthood years as a time to get youthful again and invest in their health, getting outside, traveling, dating (if single), and getting the most out of the time they have alive.”

Barriers Older Individuals Must Overcome to Receive Counseling

There are a couple challenges when it comes to receiving mental health services as an older individual. “Older adults often find it more difficult to seek therapy for a variety of reasons,” Clinical Psychologist Melissa Jones begins. Two prominent challenges include:

1. They’re taught that therapy is for “crazy people.”

“One reason is that many have been brought up believing therapy is for crazy people, not normal people with normal problems,” Jones explains. Fortunately, this misbelief isn’t as prevalent today, but some older individuals still struggle with admitting they need help and accepting that help.

2. Providers don’t take their insurance.

“A second difficulty is finding a provider who will take his or her insurance policy, especially if the adult is on Medicare,” says Jones. “Not all providers take Medicare due to the strict regulations regarding what type of providers can see Medicare patients and under what circumstances.”

However, more and more are overcoming these barriers and getting the mental health help that they need. As Dr. Campbell mentioned above, counseling will involve discussing issues like the loss of loved ones. “Once older adults decide to attend therapy, many benefit from the additional social support it brings them, especially if they are at a time in their lives that many of their friends and significant others are passing away. The practitioner often works with the client in building a new social support network and increasing the time spent utilizing his or her current social support network. Other concerns are addressed on a patient-by-patient basis. No two individuals have the same troubles or needs, so therapy is based on their individual needs.”

Counseling for Older Individuals Still Proves Effective and Important

The bottom line is that older individuals can find success in therapy, just like everyone else. It’s important that they, as well as their therapists, keep this in mind as they embark on this journey. “The key that all mental health professionals must keep in mind, when treating older individuals, is that it is never too late to reach your dreams, so therapists should not dissuade them from trying,” says Psychiatrist Carol Liebermann. “For example, I treated an older woman who hadn’t had a romantic relationship for 30 years. I encouraged her in various love-seeking efforts, from singles’ ads to matchmakers, and it didn’t take long for her to find the love of her life. Bottom line: just because someone is older, neither they, nor the therapist, should settle for supportive therapy whose aim is simply to comfort them as they go gentle into that dark night.” Carole Lieberman