Why Does Gerontological Counseling Yield the Most Effective Healing?
If you or your loved one is a senior, the counselor you or she sees absolutely, in my opinion, needs to be up to date on the latest research involving aging.
Take, for example, the topic of brain neuroplasticity and neurogenesis. Why is it critical to know about this when counseling older people? Because, not even 10 years ago in graduate psychology programs around the country, interns were taught that brains decline from age 30 on! That things were was all “downhill” – brain cells wise – from there. The explosion of current, ground-breaking brain research that we’re seeing absolutely refutes this dire and incorrect belief. Not only is that attitude false, it is anti-healing!
Our brains are changing all the time. This is called neurogenesis. It happens until our very last breath. In order to support good brain health, we need to provide some basic tools such as good nutrition, limiting sugar and processed carbs, making sure we get plenty of daily exercise, not smoking, reducing environmental toxins, decreasing stress as much as possible, practicing good mental health habits/practices, staying involved socially with family and friends, making sure we take the appropriate supplements, vitamins and minerals, etc.
When I studied psychology as a graduate student, I learned about Eric and Joan Erikson’s famous Stages of Human Development. They had first published their theories and discoveries when they themselves were very young. As they grew older they realized what the research is showing now. That is, that the years from midlife to 90 years old and up are full of rich experiences, new discoveries, and constant evolution. As Eric and Joan moved through their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, they abashedly apologized for making ill informed assumptions that our brains basically stagnate after a certain age.
Now, I am not saying that our memories or that the way we think doesn’t change. We all experience what is called age-related cognitive change as we grow older. That is most often because we have so much more data in the “hard drives” of our brains! We can also suffer from ill health of various sorts, inflammatory conditions that affect our thinking, the side effects of medications that can impact us negatively, and depression and anxiety that can also cause foggy thinking. It’s important to approach conditions like these from a looking at the whole person approach to see what the underlying root problems may be.
The important thing to realize is that it is wrong to believe that older age inevitably leads to bleak depression and cognitive decline. Rather, we can and do grow into wisdom and the ability to cut through the chaff to the gist of what is needed to thrive. In fact, the root meaning of word wisdom, Joan Erikson wrote, is “to know how to”.
I’ll end by saying that too often I hear therapists say that they see anybody, that people are all the same. I think we may be similar but I know, without a doubt from my years of professional practice and my life experience, that the issues we face in older years are different and often far more complex, multi-layered and nuanced than when we are young. Plus, our American culture adds an often-harmful overlay of ageism to the mix.
Therapy with a gerontological counselor can help you get more quickly to the root of what is happening with you and/or your loved one and is up-to-date on other resources that can help you get the attention, care and healing support you need.
Sure, it is true that getting old “ain’t for sissies” as Bette Davis famously put it. There are a myriad of challenges that confront us. Nobody would argue that! We know what those challenges are – all kinds of changes, losses of various sorts from little things to profound ones, aches and pains, the gamut.
But, you can also thrive in later years. It’s about your mindset, your emotional and spiritual practices and your strong support network. The kids called support networks these days, their “posse”. Your posse can be made up of old and new friends, your peers, support group members, family, pets, counselors, trusted doctors and spiritual advisors.
Generally, people like you have an assortment of healthy, tried-and-true coping skills that have gotten you this far in your life. Perhaps now, however, you are encountering an accumulation of situations that tax those skills. It may be time to remember your old skills and to learn new ones. It may likely be time as well to rethink your life’s purpose. Purpose is key to keeping your mood up and your heart content.
What stands in the way? Well, too many times, that old Shame rears its head and tells you that you ought to be able to figure this out on your own, that you ought to be able to just “tough it out” and do it alone or else you’re weak. You can’t burden your children so what to do? As the blue box here says, don’t keep it bottled up inside!
What people often don’t realize is that you are not alone in feeling challenged, stressed, confused, overwhelmed or anxious. These feelings surface when we are going through new phases and transitions in our lives. It’s during these times that it becomes so important to realize you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are many practices and tips for how to increase your enjoyment of life in older years.
The important thing is to not give up and figure that just depression goes with the territory. That may be what society tells you, it might be the prevailing attitude. But it is not true. Reach out for help. Counseling and support can turn your life around and help you reclaim your confidence, solid footing and peace of mind. Isn’t it worth a try? What have you got to lose!
This is a very good, short article on why it is so important to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression in older people. They may not recognize that they themselves are depressed so it is imperative for caregivers and loved ones to be on the lookout. Undiagnosed depression can lead to isolation and even suicidality. Most cases of depression can be cured. This article is written by an older gentleman who has over 30 years experience working in retirement community and health facility administration. He includes reminders and tips for fighting depression in this article. Recognize Depression in Older People – You May Save A Life