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Counseling Older Adults

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 01, 2021

Counseling can help people of any age. But the counseling needs of a teenager are probably going to be a lot different than those of an older adult. Aging includes life changes and transitions, like retirement, that you may want to talk to someone about. 

You might want to go to therapy if you:

  • Spend an hour or more each day worrying about a particular issue
  • Are embarrassed or ashamed about something in your life
  • Have developed unhealthy habits to cope with big life changes
  • Feel overwhelmed, anxious, or disinterested in things you used to enjoy

Getting counseling has other benefits, too, like helping you:

  • Learn more about yourself
  • Improve relationships
  • Achieve goals
  • Feel more fulfilled in general

Why Older People Seek Therapy

Transitioning to retirement. For some people, retirement is an exciting time to travel, immerse yourself in a hobby, or spend extra time with the family. Others may feel less enthusiastic and wonder what to do with their time. Even if you are excited to retire and have plans for how to spend your time, the transition can still be a shock to the system. 

Talking to a counselor can help you consider your choices and reflect on your career. It can also give you a better sense of what you want to focus on during retirement.

Dealing with medical issues. As you age, you may have health issues that change the way you do things. There are many conditions linked to getting older that may change your daily routines and abilities. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a condition, as you get older your vision, hearing, memory, and physical strength will likely decline.

Counseling will allow you to confront and accept these changes. Family counseling can also help anyone involved in giving you care to get the support you both need. It can also improve communication between you and your family members as you move through these changes.

Dealing with grief. Part of aging is losing people that you know. For some, that means losing a close friend, family member, or partner. Counseling can help you work through your grief and your thoughts related to aging, death, and dying.

How to Find a Counselor or Therapist

Geriatric counselors. Some therapists and counselors specialize in working with older adults. They’re knowledgeable about the specific issues affecting you and others in your age group. These specialists are sometimes called "geriatric counselors."

They may have a degree in psychology or social work. They also might have a private practice or be part of services offered at a hospital, a senior center, or a long-term care home. 

Follow these steps to find the right counselor for you:

Check with your health insurance. You likely want to find a therapist that is on your health plan to reduce costs. You should also check your health insurance plan to find out exactly what mental health services they cover, how many sessions they will cover, and so on.

Read reviews online. Online review sites are useful for deciding if a counselor may be right for you. Read both positive and negative reviews to get an idea of a therapist's strengths and weaknesses. You can also look into whether they specialize in your concerns. 

It can also be a good idea to ask your friends and family if they can recommend someone.

Call the counselor. Once you've found a few counselors that may work for you, call them on the phone. Ask how much experience they have with older adults and about any specific concerns you might have. Make sure their fees are within your budget and that their schedule will work with yours.

Remember, you can always try again. If the first counselor you choose doesn't work out, you don't have to go back. You can always try again with a different therapist or counselor. You may have to have a few first sessions before you find the right match. 

Emergency Situations

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255.

Signs that you may be feeling suicidal include:

  • Suddenly putting your affairs in order without a medical reason
  • Giving things away
  • Lack of grooming
  • Withdrawing
  • Loss of interest in things you usually enjoy
  • Suddenly stopping prescription medications
  • Lack of concern about your safety
  • Statements such as "You won't be seeing me again"
  • Expression of a plan or method to kill yourself

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: "Suicide in the Elderly."

APA: "How Do I Find a Good Therapist?"

Careers In Psychology: "GERIATRIC COUNSELING CAREER."

Counseling Today: "Ages and stages."

GoodTherapy: "Aging and Geriatric Issues."

GoodTherapy: "Why Should I Go to Therapy? 8 Signs It’s Time to See a Therapist."

Institute on Aging: "How Grief Counseling Can Help Older Adults After the Loss of a Spouse or Partner."

Mental Health America: "How do I find a therapist?"

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