Psychotherapy with Older Adults: Unjustified Fears, Unrecognized Rewards

Psychotherapy with Older Adults: Unjustified Fears, Unrecognized Rewards

by George Kraus

A geriatric clinical psychologist debunks the stereotypes about working with elderly populations, and shares his discovery of the joy and gratitude that come from intimate contact with wise elders.
I am a geriatric clinical psychologist. I love working with older adults. I have often wondered, though, why there are so few of us around. Ten thousand people in America turn 65 every single day now. There is an accelerating rate of this already underserved segment of our society, and there is a huge and growing but untapped market of potential revenue for psychotherapists wanting to expand their practices. Why, then, are there so few psychotherapists actively working with older adults? While it is estimated that 70% of psychotherapists see adults on their caseload, only 3% of them have had formal training in working with older adults. What has stopped clinicians from getting training that could be so valuable in their professional development? Despite the general finding that the motivation and attitude of the older adult toward psychotherapy is as positive as it is in other age groups, many clinicians doubt this nevertheless. As I began working with older adults, I confronted these issues, and as I did, I found new joy in my work. What I discovered was this: I have as much to learn from my older clients as they may have to learn from me.
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George KrausGeorge Kraus, PhD, ABPP, is a clinical and consulting psychologist practicing in Pleasant Hill, California. He specializes in the care of older adults, especially those suffering from Alzheimer’s and other dementias. In 2010 and in 2011, he was named Professor of the Year at Wright State University’s School of Professional Psychology, where he taught Geriatric Clinical Psychology.

Dr. Kraus is the author of At Wit's End: Plain Talk on Alzheimer's for Families and Clinicians, which was chosen for the 17th Edition of Outstanding University Press Books. He is also the author (with Gary Gemmill, Ph.D.) of A View from the Cosmic Mirror: Reflections of the Self in Everyday Life. He serves as a member of the editorial board of Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal. Learn more about Dr. Kraus’s practice at www.GeorgeKrausPhD.com.
I appreciate your very beautiful and succinct point that "the relationship itself is healing". I believe it applies to all psychotherapy relationships. It is a very helpful reminder for the therapist seeing beyond the ego presentation and physical symptoms the human body shows as time passes.
Sherry Katz,LCSW
Excellent article. I found it when looking for resources for further training in this area. As a Psychotherapist I wish to do more work with this client group, due to my own personal experience with my parents. I would appreciate it if you could direct me towards training and resources as I am in Ireland. Many thanks.
Ger Mc Entee
I feel comforted by this article. I see several elders for therapy. It is a joy to hear their stories and to develop meaningful relationships with them. It is sometimes a bit murky to me how we will get to healing and resolution of issues, yet it is clear to me that we are in a good spot to date. It is affirming to me to read that the relationship itself is healing, and that some emotional healing can happen despite some dibilitation by strokes and alzheimers.
Mary Kelley
Dear Sarah ... glad you enjoyed the article and thanks for your honest and sincere comments. Feel free to contact me by phone at 925.238.6466 or by email at joy@GeorgeKrausPhD.com. Best wishes ...
George Kraus
I appreciate this article - author does a great job of expressing much of what I have felt as a psychologist working in hospice as well as private practice where I am seeing more and more elders. I'd like to talk to the author or correspond re:one particular client I've seen for a couple of years - age 85 - who is driving me nuts (talk about countertransference!) - I see many of the unfair predjudices listed in the article occuring in my work with this fellow. Have talked endlessly with colleagues but only get temporary relief from my negative feelings. UGH
Sarah
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CE credits: 1
Learning objectives:

  • Understand the benefits elderly clients are able to reap from psychotherapy
  • Discern possible pitfalls for therapists beginning to work with aged populations
  • Reframe stereotypes of older adults' particular characteristics as they pertain to the therapeutic context
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