Introducing Seniors to Therapy

If you’re like me you have people in your life that could benefit from therapy but you are uncertain as to how to approach this topic with them. If this person is a senior citizen this can be even more challenging due to the stigma associated with therapy in the era in which they grew up. Many seniors believe that someone needs a ‘therapist’, ‘counselor’ or ‘social worker’ only when they are ‘crazy’. Or, in the very least, when there is something wrong with them.

Though there are certainly younger people who hold to the belief that ‘therapy is only for crazy people’, the stigma around therapy has decreased significantly and many recognize it as an additional area of support when one’s life changes or challenges become overwhelming. So let me begin by saying the first step to recommending therapy to a senior (or anyone for that matter) is to believe that therapy can be an additional component of a healthy person’s support system.

Due to their life stage, seniors often face significant change and challenges that they have not previously had to deal with. For many this revolves around loss of capacity, physically and/or mentally. Often times, seniors require assistance for tasks that were once simple to accomplish. However, age and infirmity can make the simplest tasks difficult and produce feelings of frustration, grief and loss. Many seniors choose, or are forced, to change their primary residence and move into a residential facility, with family, or have others in their home to assist them. Additionally, the deaths of loved ones, friends, and significant others compound the effects of grief, remorse, loneliness and depression in seniors.

Because of these, and other, changes and challenges there can be a significant amount of depression, anxiety, frustration, denial, grief and loss for seniors. As such, it is often best to address these behavioral changes in a therapeutic setting. Additionally, friends and family of seniors are often experiencing their own feelings in relationship to these changes and challenges and may, themselves, be feeling overwhelmed.

In my experience working with seniors it is best to introduce the idea of therapy as ‘someone they can talk to. I would recommend staying away from words like ‘therapist’, ‘counselor’, ‘social worker’ or “psychologist”. We all need to feel ‘heard’ and, for seniors who often feel the loss of their independence and decision making power, it is important for them to have someone they can talk to who listens or ‘hears them’. A good therapist will build a relationship with your loved one and leave them with the feeling that they have had a ‘visitor spend valuable time with them rather than feeling like there is something wrong with them.

I have also found that I do a significant amount more clinical work than the seniors do! While I am busy monitoring their moods, assessing their needs, teaching new coping skills and advocating for them, they are enjoying a visit with someone who cares for them, listens to them and seeks to meet their needs. Not only does this help the senior but it has a significant impact on the family and friends who can remove themselves from the role of ‘therapist’ and focus on their role as ‘loved one’.

If you have a senior in your life that you think could benefit from therapy ask them if they would like ‘someone to talk to’. It will bring them relief and additional support and it will relieve your stress as well.

Cori Moschberger is the Community Liason for Senior Services at Barrington Behavioral Health and Wellness.

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