Psychotherapy For The Elderly

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Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

“The Little Boy and the Old Man

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
I know what you mean,” said the little old man.”


Shel Silverstein

Encapsulated in this quote are some of the issues that the elderly, such as those in their seventies, eighties and nineties, must cope with. For most, aging brings with it diminished physical strength and capability, loss of loved ones, and feelings of no longer being relevant or connected to the real world and fears of being ignored. What is also brought with them into old age are the many unresolved conflicts and struggles from earlier in the lives. The result of this is that many elderly people become depressed. As with many people who are younger and depressed, they attempt to self medicate their problems through alcohol and drug abuse. Yes, the aged are capable of becoming addicted to drugs and alcohol and it’s insidious because people tend to incorrectly believe that it’s not possible. Therefore, they drink and abuse drugs secretly and alone.

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For many years it was believed that psychotherapy could not work for the elderly because they are set in their ways and find therapy stigmatizing because that was the attitude towards psychology when they were young. However, attitudes towards mental illness have changed throughout society and that includes older persons. Today, many older people are more than willing to enter psychotherapy. They are seeking psychological help late in life. They want help coping with age and their relationships with family and of still unresolved issues from the past.

Generally speaking, the elderly want therapy to help them deal with the present and with behavior. In other words, what works for them is cognitive behavioral therapy because they have no wish to delve into their childhoods or to have sessions that are unstructured and open ended. Instead, they want concrete goals and objectives to work towards and with a sense that, once achieved, therapy will end. Rather than meeting every week, many of them see their therapist once or twice a month for 45 minute sessions. The sessions must include new behaviors or strategies to follow in thinking about and coping with family and other present problems.

The fact is that it’s never too late for psychotherapy just as it’s never too late to learn new things.

Do you have an aging relative or are you elderly? What are your observations and questions with regard to the aging process?

Your comments are encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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