You’re Never Too Old to Seek Psychotherapy

Life changes occur at every age, but the transitions that happen when one is in their 50s and beyond seem to come at a more rapid pace. These include children who leave for college, begin careers, move out of the area, get married, and start a family of their own. Other challenging transitions include health challenges, cognitive decline, the loss of friends through death, retirement, and perhaps the ending of a longterm relationship or marriage. As well, being the primary caretaker for someone who is physically or mentally challenged, such as a partner with dementia, is well known to be quite a difficult undertaking. These challenging life events contribute to feelings of loneliness, anxiety, depression, and even suicidality.

Aging is a process that incorporates physiological, psychological, and spiritual metamorphoses. Unless we have had healthy role models for aging, such as a parent or grandparent, we may have no idea how to symbolically surf the waves heading our way. If someone buys into the belief that the ride only goes downhill from here and that the cognitive and/or physical changes that they are experiencing are limiting them, it may seem inevitable that their quality of life will suffer. The Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory is a good measure for many of the major life changes, positive and negative over the previous year. The scale contains 43 items.  Some of these changes that may relate to aging are:

· Death of a spouse 100 points

· Divorce 73 points

· Marital separation 65 points

· Death of a close family member 63 points

· Major personal injury or illness 53 points 

· Retirement 45 points

· Death of a close friend 37 points

· Son or daughter leaving home 29 points

· Major change in social activities 18 points

· Major change in sleep habits 16 points

Adding up the points, you can calculate your score and the degree of stress-related symptoms you might experience.

Isolation is a key factor in depression and if you become housebound and your social circles shrink, you are more inclined to lose your emotional bearings. “Ageism” is a term coined by gerontologist Robert N. Butler to describe discrimination against older adults. It may leave you feeling invisible and unheard, passed over for opportunities on the job and ignored when waiting for a service. 

If you are in your 50’s or older and considering getting help: 

A competent therapist can provide a compassionate ear if you either do not have family or social support or you choose to not share how you are feeling with those in your circles, for fear you will be negatively judged, or because these people are a source of stress.

A clinician can offer an objective perspective on your concerns

A seasoned psychotherapist can act as a guide through your aging process, particularly if the therapist is familiar with the experience themselves.  They can help you explore your end-of-life concerns and with planning for your dying and death.

A bereavement specialist or therapist can assist you with coping with your past or with your anticipated losses.

Someone with elder case management training and expertise can help guide you through the care system if you or a family member need home care, assisted living or nursing home care.

A psychotherapist can be of help to unpack years of emotional baggage that you may have kept under wraps, believing the stigma attached to seeking therapy. Cambridge University Press offers a guide called Psychotherapies with Older People: An Overview, in which various therapy styles and interventions are highlighted. 

Remember, it is never too late to get to know yourself better, which is one of the most important aspects of therapy. 

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