Encouraging more older adults to seek counselling

Life expectancy is increasing, meaning the population of older adults is growing. However, according to Age UK, many older adults do not seek support for their mental health despite there being a significant need, and counselling being just as effective with older adults as it is with younger populations. This article aims to explore the issues that may be encountered in later life, how counselling could improve the lives of older adults, and the barriers that may prevent older adults from accessing counselling.


Whilst the points made in this article should not be generalised to the whole of the older population, it is important to recognise that both Age UK (2022) and NHS England (2020) state that the proportion of older adults accessing therapy is lower than the rest of the population. 

What issues might older adults face?

For many older adults, later life is a time of less stress, pursuing hobbies and setting off on adventures. But, for some, it can be a challenging stage of life to navigate. Older adults may experience age-related difficulties such as adapting to a different way of life, reduced mobility, financial worries, loss and bereavement, ill health, or a change in role such as becoming a carer.

Experiencing just one of these can be tough enough and bring on feelings of confusion, worry, loneliness, or depression to name but a few. Experiencing several of these events over time or in quick succession can amplify these feelings and make coping feel really hard.

Low mood as a result of these difficulties can often be perceived as normal given the circumstances, and some individuals may believe their symptoms are not severe enough to warrant help. If symptoms are impacting on daily life, such as having difficulty relaxing or sleeping, losing interest in enjoyable activities, feeling overwhelmed or isolated, this may be a sign that working with a trained counsellor could be helpful.

There is no need to soldier on and struggle alone, particularly if talking to friends and family has not resolved issues, or if there is no one else to talk to.

Older adults may also experience issues that have nothing to do with ageing, such as relationship difficulties, or past events that have been present throughout life, and are still affecting feelings today. For some, there is a belief that it is too late in life to make changes. However, it is never too late to address issues, past or present, because change, healing, and growth is achievable across all life stages, including later adulthood.

How can counselling improve the lives of older adults?

Counselling provides an opportunity to talk openly about concerns that may have been bottled up. A counsellor will not judge or tell you what to do, they will listen with empathy, supporting you to find solutions and ways of coping.

Counselling can:

  • Set aside time to feel seen, heard, understood, and to be yourself without judgment.
  • Provide a space to process and understand thoughts, feelings, behaviours, and experiences.
  • Enhance motivation.
  • Expand self-awareness.
  • Introduce better coping strategies.
  • Increase acceptance and self-compassion.
  • Introduce problem-solving skills.
  • Increase activity.
  • Promote engagement with the community.
  • Improve quality of life.

Possible barriers to older adults seeking counselling

What factors can prevent older people from accessing therapy?

  • There can be an assumption that worrying and feeling low is to be expected with ageing.
  • A reluctance to talk about mental health because this may not be the norm.
  • A belief that it is not possible to make changes at this stage of life.
  • Not wanting to be a burden to others.
  • Lack of understanding of what counselling is.
  • Stigma attached to seeking help for mental health.
  • Health professionals may hesitate to refer older adults for counselling.

Overcoming barriers to mental health treatment

If you are an older adult struggling with your mental health, or you know an older adult who might benefit from counselling, what can you do?

Firstly, talking openly about mental health can really help to reduce the stigma associated with seeking help for mental health problems. Challenge the assumption that low mood is inevitable with ageing; a counsellor can help with acceptance of changes that may occur in later life and find ways to live a fulfilling life within your own capabilities.

Remind yourself and each other that change is possible at any stage of life. And if worrying about being a burden to others prevents you from sharing how you feel, know that a counsellor is someone you can confide in without the need to feel responsible for them.

Encourage health professionals to consider recommending counselling for older adults. And finally, find out more about counselling and what it is by asking your GP, searching online, speaking with others who have experienced counselling, and taking that first step by getting in touch with a counsellor.

If you are an older adult experiencing difficulties, I encourage you to reach out and give counselling a try to feel the benefits for yourself. I work with adults of all ages, and I have a particular interest in increasing the number of older adults accessing counselling. Please visit my profile to find out more about the way we could work together, I would love to hear from you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Written by Vicky Harrison, Integrative Counsellor, BA (Hons), MBACP
Rugby CV21 & CV22

As an integrative counsellor my aim is to be alongside you to help you gain a deeper understanding of yourself, increasing your own ability to make changes, cope, work towards your desired goals, and to be your true authentic self.

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