A recent article in The New York Times cited increasing numbers of older Americans seeking psychological help. They come to resolve old issues, explore the meaning of their lives, and experience the unique terrain of self-discovery offered through therapy. Delighted as I was to read this, I have worked with numerous people in their seventies and eighties, even one in his nineties, so it came as no surprise to me that older souls would be interested in plumbing their depths.
At first blush, it might seem as if this trend to seek counseling late in life is a result of people living longer. Maybe author Alvin Toffler was right when he imagined super accelerating speeds of technology requiring more of us than we can assimilate. Or, perhaps life is simply increasingly complicated and hurried, leaving people less time to connect in meaningful ways. While these may be true to some extent, I think the reason folks of all ages are open to seeking counseling is because we are all evolving. This is yet another step in our natural progression toward self-awareness. As Abraham Maslow said in the 1940s, once our basic needs are met we strive for greater knowledge, self-acceptance, and self-actualization.
As a holistic psychotherapist, and someone who has personally benefited from therapy, I applaud the courage anyone evinces when he or she seeks help. Especially older people, who were brought up in a time when self-sufficiency was the coin of the realm, and asking for help anathema.
A middle-aged friend of mine who has not had much contact with therapists or therapy recently asked me why people don’t see a therapist to talk things out, before everything hits the fan. Because that lingering American value of independence is so deeply ingrained, because our lives are really chock-full and it takes a deliberate, conscious effort to seek out someone to whom you might want to bare your soul, and because we have not yet created a societal precedent that fully recognizes therapy’s gifts.
In addition, unless you have been in a good therapeutic relationship, it is easy to think a friend or family member can provide the same thing. While friends and family can certainly be loving, listen attentively, and even offer good advice, a therapist is in a unique relationship with you. She or he is not friend, clergy member, teacher, coach, nor family. Therefore, she or he can speak with you in ways no one else can. Her or his listening is not biased through prior social, civic, or religious encounters with you. In addition, a good therapist has been trained in a multitude of modalities designed expressly to support you through a crisis, desensitize you to phobias, help reframe your thinking, and refer you to a psychiatrist if medication is necessary.
One of the people quoted in the Times article still stops by his therapist’s office for a monthly checkup. “He said he wishes he had tried therapy years ago,” the article states. “But he adds: ‘I can’t go back. I can only go forward.’ ” Yes, and that is what therapy is all about: going forward with compassionate support and new resources.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.