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.
THE RISKS OF GETTING OLDER
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
--Wills and estate planing
--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.
EDUCATION AND OLDER STUDENTS
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.
CONCERNS ABOUT SEEKING HELP
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
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
IMPLICATIONS FOR COUNSELING
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.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
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).