Geropsychology Training


Counselor training in downtown Chicago

I spent yesterday in downtown Chicago at a training about adult development and the aging process.  It was the first in a series of six trainings that I plan to attend, all focusing on how to be the most effective counselor for our elders.

I have been quite interested in working with older adults for a number of reasons.

First, I respect their years of experience in life, and the insights they bring.  Time brings with it a great variety of perspectives and experiences, can bring a deep richness to reflections about life, and can result in insights that are surprisingly clear and straightforward.  However, time can also bring painful memories, losses and change; all of which can be difficult to cope with.

This brings me to the second reason that I’m interested in counseling elders:  they often face some of the most difficult circumstances, decisions and questions in life.  There are health related issues and limitations (another big focus of mine), relationship issues such as loss of loved ones or dependency, and financial stress just to mention a few.  And, in one way or another, we all eventually face the topic of our own mortality.  I guess you could say that old age often forces us to really come down to the root of the matter, and face the big questions about who we are, what we are doing here, and what it all means.

Developmental tasks in old age

For example, it is a natural part of human development to come to an age when you review and evaluate your life, in an effort to feel a sense of acceptance and integrity.  People go through a process of organizing their memories and interpreting the meaning of life events.  Elderly people who successfully accomplish this, are then more capable of accepting change, approaching things with a sense of humor, and enjoying life.  Easier said than done, right?

The challenges of geropsychology

There are some unique challenges in counseling older adults.  Time allows us to be exposed to tragedies and traumas; and all the decisions we make over time can result in some mistakes and regrets.  Although time can teach us so much, it can also cement us into unhealthy mindsets, habits or coping methods.  If a person has many unresolved issues which have added up over a long lifespan, then it may feel overwhelming to start processing them.  In other words, issues that are difficult to begin with, may become even more difficult to work through if left until the later years, and compounded one on top of another.  Of course not all elders fall into these patterns, but these are some of the risks made greater over time.

Counseling for older adults

When a person gets stuck or depressed as a result of these circumstances or questions, then a counselor can help.  Some of the goals that I would have in working with older adults would be:

  • clarifying their unique issues, symptoms, diagnosis and goals; and working on these
  • maximizing quality of life and sense of dignity
  • maintaining independence
  • increasing meaningful activities and community involvement
  • adjusting to changes and/or losses, and creatively compensating for losses or limitations

I have appreciated the older adults whom I have counseled so far, and I look forward to working with more.  I also look forward to the rest of this series of trainings on geropsychology.

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