Geriatric Psychotherapy: A Growing Need

Therapists need to start focusing on elder mental health

Thanks to active lifestyles, healthier diets, exercise, and advances in medicine and healthcare, Americans are living longer. That trend, coupled with historically low birth rates, is transforming the United States into an older population. 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.  
This growing population presents a great opportunity for those who practice geriatric psychotherapy to help an increasing number of seniors live their golden years to the fullest. Keep reading to learn more about the issues that affect the older generations, why therapists need to start focusing on elder mental health, and how geriatric psychotherapy can help your practice get to the next level. 
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. 
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. In fact, research suggests that nearly half of the elder 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 
When you think of people addicted to drugs, the older population might not be the first group that pops into mind. Believe it or not, research suggests that 5.7 million seniors are suffering from drug addiction today. Moreover, 6 million seniors consume alcohol, 132,000 use marijuana, and 4,300 use cocaine on an average day. On top of this, there’s been an increase in opioid use among this age group in recent years. Add it all up, and drug addiction among seniors is a growing crisis. 
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. Another individual might wish they pursued a different career. Either situation is an example of someone worrying about something they have no control over. 
While some seniors have a natural propensity toward depression, others began developing the issue in the wake of 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, causing them to become depressed. 
When you live long enough, you see a lot of people you care about die. 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 the individual experiences it, bereavement can ultimately turn into profound, almost crippling grief. 
Bereavement can also cause a slew of other thoughts and behaviors, including guilt, anger, and regret. For this reason, many seniors seek out professional help to process these feelings of loss and overcome bereavement-induced pain and sadness. 
Struggling with growing older 
As people age, many of them begin having problems with the process of aging itself. On one hand, an individual might develop mental health issues because they’re forced to deal with chronic pain and deteriorating health. On the other, someone might have self-esteem issues as they see themselves getting older and losing their place and influence in the world. Many of these folks choose to talk to therapists to improve their outlook and live happier lives. 
While this list is by no means exhaustive, it should give you a better idea of the variety of different mental health issues that impact seniors. 
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. With declining birth rates and an aging population, more and more Americans are skewing older. By preparing to treat this group of seniors, therapists can do their part to promote the health of older adults — much to the benefit of family, friends, communities, and the seniors themselves.
•	The stigma around mental health 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 90 percent of seniors 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 untrue.  
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. 
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. After all, this is a traditionally 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. 
On top of this, seniors can also help you grow your practice via word-of-mouth referrals. 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 how your experience goes, you might even find out that geriatric psychotherapy is your true calling. This could make your work more engaging while helping you reach your full potential as a 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. That way, older folks will be able to find you more easily when they begin their search for a therapist. 

31 replies
  1. Paniz shhabazi
    Paniz shhabazi says:

    Elderly people distance themselves from society, which means, in my opinion, when people age, they should spend more time with their family and friends. They need to exercise, get enough sleep, manage their stress, stay connected. But they follow too little and think too much which causes depression. And as I read in the article, psychotherapists play an important role in the recovery of the elderly.

  2. Arefeh akbarpur
    Arefeh akbarpur says:

    Unfortunately, in today’s Iranian society, on the one hand, the bad economic conditions for retirees and on the other hand, the deep cultural and religious gap between the young and the elderly due to the information explosion in the last decade (Internet and virtual space) have caused isolation and depression in the elderly, which needs a lot of attention.

  3. Bahar aghamiri
    Bahar aghamiri says:

    In our country, less attention is paid to the mental health of the elderly, but the mental health of the elderly is very important and special studies should be conducted in the field of aging. The awareness of the elderly community about therapists and psychotherapy should be increased because many of the elderly are unwilling to receive mental health services. They have no treatment

  4. Monir Vakili
    Monir Vakili says:

    Unfortunately, the population of our country is aging and our facilities are not enough and it’s so challenging to take care of them in the right way. Old people need regular therapy to keep the hope of life alive in them and not to be depressed. Also, their family members. They need proper training to be patient and calm when facing these people.

  5. ساناز سعادتی
    ساناز سعادتی says:

    The therapist must be ready to act decisively as soon as she sees the first signs of disability that require the active involvement of other medical professionals, such as internal specialists, with the need to consult and ask for help from family members

  6. مبینا محمدزاده
    مبینا محمدزاده says:

    In my opinion,we can live in the moment and enjoy it but better We spend this period much more easily if we use foods that strengthen the body and bones and do exercises that help strengthen muscles and body parts

  7. Anis Farasat
    Anis Farasat says:

    The mental health of the elderly, like children, youth and adults, is important and should be given more attention. With the increase of geriatric psychotherapists, it is possible to pay more and better attention to their mental health and help them.

  8. Fatemeh akbaripoor
    Fatemeh akbaripoor says:

    The elderly need more attention and sensitivity, and as they get older, more attention should be paid to them, and let’s not forget that they are more sensitive now.

  9. Sara ebadi
    Sara ebadi says:

    Sara ebadi
    That means, in fact, psychotherapy for the elderly relieves the biological and cultural tensions to some extent and helps the elderly to function within the limits of their abilities according to the trainings.

  10. Mohadese salimzade
    Mohadese salimzade says:

    Hello teacher, don’t be tired. The period of old age is like the period of childhood. Like children, the elderly have sensitivities, they need love and attention. You should take care of them and provide for their needs. It is natural to worry about the future and the occurrence of death. But keep in mind that while we can live in the moment and enjoy it, the fear of death or dying can still be a concern. If the elderly are diagnosed with death anxiety symptoms, they should discuss their concerns with a psychiatrist.

  11. هدیه معصومی
    هدیه معصومی says:

    Due to old beliefs, some elderly people think that if they go to a therapist, they are crazy. Unfortunately, it is true that therapists are less likely to treat the elderly, and if we can move in this direction, it will work for us. It makes money.

  12. Nasim vafaii
    Nasim vafaii says:

    When we give a person a negative feeling and make him feel that he is not the same as before and prohibit him from doing many things due to his age, we leave a very bad effect on his soul and spirit. We may do this unconsciously, but How good it is to learn how to deal with the elderly in the family from experts and pay a little more attention to them.

  13. Hannaneh Ghalandari
    Hannaneh Ghalandari says:

    In my opinion, psychotherapy for the elderly makes it possible to relieve some of the biological and cultural tensions and helps the elderly to work and have fun in the society within the limits of their abilities according to their previous education, activities and self-concept. In patients with cognitive impairment, psychotherapy causes significant improvement in mental and physical symptoms

  14. chenarani
    chenarani says:

    Our country is on the brink of an elderly population. I wish that suitable solutions and facilities would be provided so that the elderly could live a good life. They are lovely and full of precious experiences and they have the right to live the best life and enjoy life forever. In my mind, the bitter part of the elderly is that they are in the nursing home where they are separated from their family and feel low value and deep loneliness. I feel as if they are condemned to continue living, now anyway, it is really bitter and sad for me

  15. chenarani
    chenarani says:

    I always thought that the biggest problem of the elderly is their loneliness, disability and illness, but the issue of turning to addiction in old age was strange, as it is not very believable for me that a person commits suicide in old age, addiction was far from my imagination, but after reading the article, I found out about deep problems. I realized that this mourning is really a painful part of life, the loss of loved ones, which I think the pain and suffering will decrease, but it will never go away, and if you lose a lot of loved ones, hope and motivation for life will decrease, and maybe you will get old. to the point where he spends his life waiting for the day of death

  16. Armina Armansharif
    Armina Armansharif says:

    Wow!! i didnt know until now that more than 5 milion elderly people are addicted to drugs.but I had heard a lot about the sleep disorders of the elderly and I had seen people around me that they cant sleep at night and they are even stressed that they will die if they sleep.therapists can be of great help to the elderly so that they can live a good life during this critical period.

  17. Atena soleimani
    Atena soleimani says:

    Because elderly people need more care they get older paying more attention to their mental health should also be considered.

  18. Fatemeh khorsand fard
    Fatemeh khorsand fard says:

    Hello,good time, teacher
    In my opinion, just as children and young people have many problems and they always need a companion and helper, it is the some for middle-aged people. You should take care of them in any situation and love and care for them and you should provide for their needs so that their sadness and worries are reduced.

  19. Maryam farajkhah
    Maryam farajkhah says:

    Hi Professor, aging is associated with problems. Elderly people, like a child, need kindness and affection from the family so that their gaps and worriesTherefore, those around you should be careful and seek help from a counselor if necessary are reduced.

  20. Zhina Alikhani
    Zhina Alikhani says:

    Public awareness of the importance of the mental health of the elderly should be increased.

  21. Kobra bazdar
    Kobra bazdar says:

    Hi Professor, I think this scientific article about elder people was very useful because I took care of my parents for many years and experienced the hardships of this age closely. we don’t pay attention to them and their life expectancy decreases every day. We should put them first and spend more time with them. I hope psychology pays more attention to old people.

  22. Zahra choopanbishe
    Zahra choopanbishe says:

    In my opinion, if we think about old age and old age from a young age, it means that we should do things that strengthen memory.
    We can spend this period much more easily if we use foods that strengthen the body and bones and do exercises that help strengthen muscles and body parts

  23. Soudabeh Ashoori
    Soudabeh Ashoori says:

    Hello dear professor. I am Sudabeh Ashoori. Your student from Iranian University With regard to the above article, you have worked hard. I must say that your service is very important to take care of the soul and spirit of the elderly. An elderly person is like a child who needs attention and affection. Just as taking care of children is important to us, we should also spend time on our elderly parents and respect their mental health. With love, by providing a calm environment, by saying beautiful and romantic sentences thank you

  24. Darya Ghaderi
    Darya Ghaderi says:

    Due to their old age, the elderly need the support of their children to prevent depression and anxiety, just as they took care of our mental health and physical health in our childhood.

  25. Setare Rezayi
    Setare Rezayi says:

    Hi.It was great thank you. The elderly need more attention in all basins, and since they are less concerned, this article will greatly help us to pay more attention to the health of the elderly in addition to our health.

  26. نیلوفر خوشدل
    نیلوفر خوشدل says:

    Greetings dear professor, I am Niloofar Khoshdel from Iranian University You mentioned a point that most psychotherapists rarely pay attention to. In my opinion, elderly people can have less hope for life due to the nature of life, and in my opinion, this is one of the most important parts of an elderly person’s life. And usually these people are lonely and isolated and receive less love and attention. And there are many who, in addition to mental illness, have a hard time dealing with physical illness. And maybe even in the field of psychology, this issue has been given a little less attention. In my opinion With more activity in this field, we can give more meaning and peace to the lives of these honorable seniors…

  27. Mohadeseh khan mirzaie
    Mohadeseh khan mirzaie says:

    Around this age when people are normally retired and get less work to keep their brain engaged, they start thinking unusual things, try to dictate their own thoughts and all these things happen because of sense of insecurity. They start thinking that they’re getting ignored and lesser attention from other family members
    So at this time, they need more care and a good therapist can organize their thoughts and make them feel valuable.

  28. mahnaz nouruzi
    mahnaz nouruzi says:

    Hi dear professor
    In my opinion, the problem of population aging is not only limited to one country, we will soon see this problem in Iran as well. For a healthy lifestyle, we all need a therapist at any age, and this is good news for students and those interested in psychology. A wide area that is necessary to increase their knowledge and skills on a daily basis so that they can provide better services
    good luck

  29. Shirin farrokh
    Shirin farrokh says:

    Elderly people Due to their old age, in other words, they are waiting for their death, they do not pursue their mental treatment. Culturalization also helps a lot so that the elderly can treat their mental problems with hope for life.


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