Geriatric Psychotherapy: A Growing Need

Americans are living longer thanks to their active lifestyles, healthier diets, exercise and advances in medicine. This trend is accompanied by Historical low birth ratesThe United States is becoming an older country. In fact, by 2030, it’s expected that every baby boomer will be at least 65 years old and that seniors will account for One out of every five US citizens 

Geriatric psychotherapy is a growing field that offers great opportunities for those who wish to help seniors live to their full potential. Continue reading to learn about the issues that affect older generations and why therapists need focus on elder mental health. Also, how geriatric psychotherapy could help your practice grow. 

Elder Mental Health: What Are the Most Important Issues for Older People? 

Just because they’ve been on the planet longer than most people doesn’t mean seniors have it all figured out. In fact, it’s not uncommon for mental health issues to manifest as individuals get older as they leave their jobs, their kids move away, and they find themselves with more time on their hands than they’re used to. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the common mental health issues that older folks struggle with. 

Insomnia 

Due to a confluence of factors — a lack of exercise, an uptick in medications, and a less-than-optimal diet, for example — many seniors have problems getting a good night’s sleep. Research shows that nearly half of seniors don’t get enough sleep. Half of the elderly population experience insomnia at one point or another. Unfortunately, sleep issues can translate into a host of other problems — like irritability, exhaustion, and drug addiction. 

Drug addiction 

The older population is not the first to come to mind when you think about people addicted. Research shows that 5.7 million seniors are addicted to drugs today. On average, 6 million seniors drink alcohol, 132,000 smoke marijuana, and 4,300 take cocaine. On top of this, there’s been an increase in opioid use among this age group in recent years. Add it all together and you get Seniors with drug addiction is a growing crisis. 

Depression 

As people age, it’s not uncommon for them to have more time to think about their lives and their place in this world. Someone might begin to dwell on a mistake they made two decades ago and ruminate on it obsessively because they have more time on their hands than they’re used to, for example. One person might wish they had a different career. Both of these situations can be a sign that someone is worried about something they don’t control. 

Some seniors are naturally inclined to depression. Others developed the condition after the COVID-19 pandemic. The abrupt transformation of our lives — coupled with fear over the virus itself and profound social isolation — was particularly difficult for certain seniors to process, Depressing them can result.. 

Bereavement  

You will see many people you love die if you live long enough. Whether it’s an old colleague, a childhood friend, a family member, a spouse, or even a child, losing a loved one can be an incredibly difficult period for everyone, including our elders. Depending on how each person experiences it, Bereavement can ultimately turn into profound, almost crippling grief. 

Bereavement can also lead to a host of other thoughts and behaviors such as guilt, anger, and even regret. Many seniors seek professional help to deal with the grief and pain that bereavement can cause. 

Having trouble with getting older 

Many people experience problems with aging as they age. On one hand, an individual might develop mental health issues because they’re forced to deal with chronic pain and deteriorating health. Someone might also have Self-esteem issues as they see themselves getting older and losing their place and influence in the world. Many of these people seek therapy to improve their outlook and live happier, more fulfilling lives. 

Although this list is not comprehensive, it should give an overview of the various mental health issues that can affect seniors. 

Why therapists must be prepared to care and treat elders 

If you’re a therapist who hasn’t considered geriatric psychotherapy before, here are some reasons why you might want to rethink that and give it a try: 

  • The population isn’t getting any younger. Americans are becoming older faster due to declining birth rates, and the aging population. Therapists can do their bit by preparing to treat seniors. Promoting the health of older adults — much to the benefit of family, friends, communities, and the seniors themselves.
     
  • Mental health stigmatization is disappearing. While Americans have traditionally kept quiet about the importance of talking to therapists to work through mental health issues, that’s all changing. As the stigma around mental health continues to dissipate, it follows that more and more seniors will be willing to give geriatric psychotherapy a try if for no other reason than it’s socially acceptable.
     
  • There aren’t many therapists specializing in this area. There’s a reason that as many as Seniors make up 90 percent don’t get the treatment they need to live their best lives: There is a dearth of therapists that treat older folks. To some extent, this is due to the misconception that you can’t teach the proverbial dog new tricks. This ageist outlook is simply not true.  

Now that you have a better idea of some of the reasons why you should start sharpening your geriatric psychotherapy skills, let’s turn our attention to the business part of the equation: how treating older patients impacts your practice. 

How Geriatric Psychotherapy can benefit your practice 

At a very basic level, offering geriatric psychotherapy services can benefit your practice by enabling you to target an entirely new slate of clients — and grow your bottom line because of it. This is a historically underserved population. If there aren’t many therapists in your area who treat seniors, you may be able to become the only show in town — which could be particularly lucrative. 

Seniors can help you grow your practice by referring others to you. If an elderly client really enjoys your services, you can bet that they’ll tell their friends and loved ones about you. At the same time, you might even be able to get some of their friends or family members as clients, too, as you all work together to navigate the complex issues that come with aging — and how they impact the entire family.  

Depending on your experiences, you might find that geriatric therapy is your true calling. This could make your work easier and help you achieve your full potential as an therapist. 

If you’re a GoodTherapy member who sees geriatric clients or is planning to give it a shot after reading these words, be sure that you have “Elders” selected as one of the ages you treat in your profile. This will make it easier for older people to find you when they start their search for a therapist. 

Here’s to helping the older population live their best lives! 




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