ERIC Identifier: ED260363
Publication Date: 1984-00-00
Author: Clements, Judy, Comp.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.

Older Adults: Counseling Issues. In Brief: An Information Digest from ERIC/CAPS.

Increased numbers of older people and a continued lengthening of the life span signal the need to expand counseling services to a population often overlooked--the older adult. While the elderly for 25 percent of the national total spent on health care, they are underrepresented in receiving psychological aid. Older adults are healthier and better educated than ever before, concerned about the quality of life as well as the length of it. This Digest focuses on some of the special concerns of the elderly and ways couselors can help.


A number of role transitions and losses heighten the vulnerability of the older person--children leaving me, career change, retirement, death of a spouse, isolation, and institutionalization. A deficit in personal resources and/or coping skills may mean a need for counseling services.

Certain groups show potential for higher counseling needs including the sick and disabled, the disadvantaged, minorities, prisoners, substance abusers, homosexuals, and the single or widowed.


Many older adults cannot afford to retire or choose not to do so. The problem of unemployment or underemployment for older workers is significant. In addition to the normal difficulties facing any job seeker, older workers encounter discriminatory practices, stereotypical attitudes, changes in their abilities, and a negative self-image. Self-defeating attitudes and behaviors need to be addressed before successful job placement can occur; a good counselor-client relationship is crucial to the outcome.


Retirement is a critical and often traumatic event that may result in restlessness rather than rest. Many experts find current pre-retirement programs too narrow in scope. A more holistic approach would include help with:

--Using current resources for future needs

--Using leisure meaningfully, either in pursuit of hobbies, part time work, volunteer activities, sociopolitical activism, or in reflection and contemplation

--Wills and estate planing

--Continuing education

--Obtaining housing, health and safety

--Establishing and maintaining relationships

Research has shown that many workers are reluctant to participate in these programs, believing they signal extinction. But this trend is beginning to change and most large corporations now offer some sort of pre-retirement program. Counselors have an important role in giving information, suggesting meaningful options, and providing opportunities for voicing concerns. Counselors need to examine their own biases and show a special sensitivity to the fact that anxiety about retirement often is really anxiety about aging.


Older students face many of the same barriers and stereotypes that older workers do. Education in later life can be enjoyed for its own sake as well as for updating job skills or learning leisure pursuits. Many colleges allow older students to audit classes free, on a space-available basis, and provide classes in the community, often taught by volunteer retirees.

Contrary to many expectations, most older students are highly motivated and do well academically. Their experiences and vitality are often beneficial to younger students. While many elders have no problem adjusting, special considerations may be needed in terms of lighting, parking, security, study guides and outlines, and provisions for hearing or vision deficiencies.


Older persons are often reluctant to seek help and view counseling with doubt, suspicion, and anxiety. They often rely on other professionals such as the family physician or minister, or their own support network of family and friends.


Group counseling can neutralize some of the potential problems of traditional one-to-one counseling, such as the counselor's own unresolved feelings toward aging and death, as well as age bias. Group counseling encourages supportive sharing and social interaction which may help replace lost family or work contacts. The elderly can share past experiences denied to younger persons and reinforce appropriate social roles of aging. Peer counseling programs are often effective.


Counseling the elderly most often requires a holistic approach--consistent with lifestyle counseling. Older persons often have simultaneous counseling needs, but some concerns, like elder abuse, may not be immediately mentioned as a problem. Counselors should treat older clients with respect:

--Emphasizing their strengths, not weaknesses

--Developing independence while diminishing dependence

--Encouraging decision making and action taking

Millions of older adults are living in various stages of health, happiness, and ability. They are more different from each other than are members of any other age group and must be treated as individuals.

Counseling the elderly is a new and challenging field that promises a more satisfying, meaningful life for America's older citizens.


Behn, Ruth, and Lois V. Hamer. TALL TALES ABOUT OLDER AMERICANS (and) NEVER TOO OLD TO EARN: A GUIDE FOR COMMUNITY COLLEGE PLACEMENT OFFICERS. Washington, D.C.: American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, 1981. ED 202 492.

Benjamin, Libby. SEARCHLIGHT--RELEVANT RESOURCES IN HIGH INTEREST AREAS. COUNSELING FOR PRERETIREMENT. Ann Arbor, MI: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Service, 1979. ED 159 541.

"Counseling the Elderly--I." COUNSELING AND VALUES 24 (February 1980).

"Counseling the Elderly--II." COUNSELING AND VALUES 24 (April 1980).

"Counseling the Elderly--III." COUNSELING AND VALUES 24 (July 1980).

Glass, J. Conrad, and Katherine A. Grant. "Counseling in the Later Years--A Growing Need." THE PERSONNEL AND GUIDANCE JOURNAL 62 (December 1983):210-213.

Johnson, Richard P., and Harold C. Riker. "Counselor's Goals and Roles in Assisting Older Persons." AMERICAN MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELORS ASSOCIATION JOURNAL 4 (January 1982):30-40.

Myers, Jane E. "Counseling Needs of Older Persons." Paper presented at the conference of the Florida Personnel and Guidance Association, Orlando, Florida, November 16-18, 1978. ED 174 907.

Myers, Jane E., and Larry L. Loesch. "Counseling Needs of Older Persons." THE HUMANIST EDUCATOR 20 (September 1981):21.

Nissenson, Marilyn. "Therapy After 60." PSYCHOLOGY TODAY 18 (January 1984).

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