A recent article in The New York Times cited increasing numbers of A recent article in The New York Times cited increasing numbers of

It’s Never Too Late to Grow

Older man sitting and thinkingA 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.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole S. Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, Holistic Psychotherapy Topic Expert Contributor

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.

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  • Jere-Me

    May 1st, 2013 at 12:07 PM

    its a good sign that these seniors are reaching out to therapy. maybe it was frowned upon in their times to even go to therapy, maybe it was a thing of losing self esteem. but whatever was the reason I’m only happy that they are going ahead and doing what they want to, at least at this age,without thinking about what others may think or say. that is the attitude to have.I follow it every day and make sure I try and show others how it is beneficial. very nice to see older people doing this.

  • alston

    May 2nd, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    Sadly none of the older people in my life would EVER think about going to therapy. Something about that generation- just too much pride to admit that they could use a little help resolving old hurts and wounds.

  • Nicole

    May 2nd, 2013 at 1:00 PM

    Thanks for your comment, Alston.
    I’m sorry the elders in your life might not be among those who see this as a great opportunity.
    All I can say is people have a way of surprising us when we least expect it. I wouldn’t hold my breath, but neither would I assume the way they think and feel now is a definite predictor of how they will act in the future.

  • Nicole

    May 2nd, 2013 at 1:04 PM

    Hi Jere-Me,

    I agree with you completely. It’s so life affirming to see how people can change and grow at any age.

    As a yogi, I believe our job is to be our truest self, regardless of other people’s opinions and preferences. It’s certainly not easy, but increases one’s sense of authenticity and can be mightily empowering.

  • deborah

    May 2nd, 2013 at 11:15 PM

    my dad learnt squash at age 70 and he was good at it. There is no age to doing things or learning newer ones. All you need is to be confident.

    Likewise it s never too late to seek therapy. If it can help you then why not? better late than never isnt it??

  • CLAY

    May 3rd, 2013 at 1:58 PM

    Well, I guess that this just affirms that you can teach some of us old dogs new tricks after all!

    I have always wanted to change and be more open but never really had the opportunity for that growth until a little later in life. But now I love the courage that this sparked in me to discover some all new things that I liked about myself and my life and also gave me the know how to get past some of the things that have simply been dragging me down for years and years. This was a scary process for me at first but now that I am on it it feels like such a positive life changer for me that I will never disregard my real self and my real feelings again.

  • Sally

    May 7th, 2013 at 2:07 AM

    I agree that it takes courage to take the steps for older adults to seek change. By seeing a therapist for mental health counseling they are able to work on themselves and make effective changes that will bring a more fulfilling life to them and promote healthy change.

  • Nicole

    May 11th, 2013 at 7:02 PM

    Hi Clay,
    It is so wonderful to read that you will never disregard your real self and true feelings again.
    While that may not always feel fantastic, since not all emotions and situations are peachy, the very radical act of being present and aware keeps you authentic and in touch.

  • Anonymous

    May 12th, 2013 at 6:31 PM

    I think the #1 reason older folks don’t seek therapy is because they’re living on a damned fixed income and have to choose between food and perscriptions!!!!!! Or they’re the sole caregiver for a disabled spouse and they’re both on food stamps? Or a hundred other currently occuring situations?

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