As we gather more years in our lives, we naturally encounter more and more experiences. Many of them are lovely, joyful and profound. Many of them also inevitably involve loss. Loss can refer to deaths in our families, amongst our loved ones, our pets and extended community. Loss can also be experienced in relationship to job changes, retirement, living situations, finances, physical capabilities, independence, hopes and dreams.
Learning how to deal with cumulative loss is paramount to good mental health and one's sense of wellbeing. Coping skills commonly used by people to manage grief and loss include cognitive/behavioral techniques, mindfulness meditation, prayer, support groups, self-help literature, workshops, exercise, music, poetry, writing and individual, marital, and/or family counseling.
Older generation adults may or may not have experience with, or a belief in the valuable benefits of, counseling. Many are strong survivors who believe in the value of discipline, determination and will power to surmount challenges. Counseling may have never been part of their family culture. There can come a time, however, when “white knuckling it” alone through emotional pain may not be the most effective strategy for health. Oftentimes, older people don’t want to burden their adult children with their worries and concerns. Where can they turn?
Traditionally, older people have sought comfort from their family doctors or spiritual leaders. Doctors nowadays do not have the time they used to have to spend counseling patients. Spiritual leaders’ time is usually limited as they often have large congregations to care for. A wise and experienced geriatric counselor who is genuinely caring, nonjudgmental and a good listener can be a powerful support team member for older people.
Why Is It Important for Older Clients to see a Geriatric Counselor?
All Licensed Marriage & Family Therapists receive a deep training in counseling-psychology, a variety of evidence-based treatment models and solid intervention techniques. Similar to geriatric MD's, however, geriatric counselors also have extensive additional training and experience in addressing specific issues encountered in aging. With older people, many more pieces of the health “puzzle” come into play.
For instance, physical health status, medications, living conditions, safety, socialization vs. isolation, independence vs. dependence, spirituality, lifelong learned personality patterns, nutrition, shifting roles in families, impacts of ageism in society, a continuing sense of purpose and value, an ability to contribute to their communities – all of these and more contribute to the older individual’s sense of wellbeing.
A close attention to working collaboratively as part of a compassionate and competent support team is also often called for in serving older clients. With each client’s express written permission and where beneficial to each client, geriatric counselors can contribute greatly to the client’s wellbeing through effective communication and teambuilding with physicians, caregivers, facility social workers, nurses, psychiatrists, care managers, spiritual leaders and family members. “It takes a village” is often true in serving the wellbeing of older clients.
Thus, it is important that geriatric counselors are well-versed and up-to-date with the common physical challenges, safety issues, emotional challenges, relationship/role changes, societal influences, support teams and environmental concerns encountered by aging clients. In order to effectively advocate for, educate on behalf of and serve this population as a therapist, simply knowing the basics of counseling psychology is not enough.
Geriatric counselors in Marin can be found through a local google search, through a search on Marin County's online site for the Division of Aging and Adult Services, through the Find A Therapist tool on the Marin California Marriage & Family Therapists website, or through a referral from your spiritual advisor or physician.