How therapy can help the older woman

In my therapy room, I encounter many older women who have reached a point in their lives when they feel unable to move forward. They report feeling overwhelmed and challenged by what they perceive to be the futility of their lives. With decades of life experience behind them, they now wonder how they have coped and rode out the many storms on the way. Now they have hit a brick wall. 


Many in this cohort have led successful working and personal lives, 'keeping the show on the road' by meeting the needs of friends, families and partners. Now suddenly they are finding it hard to discover fulfilment in anything. They certainly were not expecting to feel like this!

Clients in therapy: three cases

Ms L returned to therapy three years after losing her son in a hit and run. Soon after his death she sought help and was doing all the things we felt were appropriate at the time, using various coping mechanisms to get through her traumatic experience. Now she seemed broken. 

Three years of sorting out practical and legal matters had kept her focused. Now she felt lost. Feeling fatigue and brain fog with the onset of the menopause was a new experience for her. She seemed to have lost her ability to cope. She felt isolated and unable to talk to anyone about her emotions surrounding the loss of her son. which continued to impact on her day-to-day life. 

Other family members seemed to be coping with the loss. But her own anxiety was high, fearing the future and haunted by the past. Where had all those years gone when she was the coper, the 'go to', the strong one, the one who everyone could lean on. 'What was the point of life?' she asked herself in one session.

Ms G had been coming to therapy for a while. We had worked through her trauma and childhood abuse. She had coped well with caring for her terminally ill Mum whilst also dealing with her own anxiety and depression. Estranged from her biological family, and the loss of friendship networks, she too felt isolated and bereft.

A natural helper, intelligent and perceptive, she wanted to be a therapist. However, focusing on her studies proved elusive. Chronic stress plagued any progress she made and her negative internal voice sounded loud and brash. She was struggling to be her own person, find her true self. As she acknowledged, she had been focusing on the needs of others and realised she was neglecting her own.   

She felt she had been a failure because she  had been unable to keep home and family together and was judged by society as such. 'Where had that person gone, the one who had been sociable and fulfilled and had overcome seemingly insurmountable odds in the past?' she reflected.

A third client, Ms A had spent a lot of time working to identify and come to terms with her many losses over the years. She had been able to make a connection between her hoarding habit and years of feeling empty and isolated. She often felt abandoned and blamed as a child who was 'never enough' for her mother. 

Now in her 50s she found herself dogged by health issues she believed to be exacerbated by the menopause. Her GP was not supportive. Feeling mocked and judged because a hidden disability prevented her from working only served to fuel her anxiety and sense of worthlessness.

In therapy, we have tapped into her writing skills which have enabled her to gain perspective on her own life story. This has helped her to find her new identity, increase her self-confidence and stand her own ground' and has displayed significant personal growth. 

Re-connecting and facing her past, she has been able to claim what is legally and morally her in the wake of her mother's death. In my opinion, therapy has provided her with a safe and supportive space in which she can express her vulnerabilities and by doing so has demonstrated strength and resilience by asserting herself.

Leaving the past and moving forward

Years of complying, keeping quiet because it felt safer to do, holding it together and appearing strong for others are familiar themes voiced by the women I work with who are at this stage in their lives.

The changes brought about by the menopause have had a clear impact on both their psychological and physical health. This has led them to question their ability to think and focus and to fear that they may be 'losing it'. Continual change and adjustment can feel overwhelming. Add bodily changes and feeling less attractive into the mix and it is clear how stressful everyday life can be for these women.  

I believe the therapeutic process has helped these women and many others unpick the layers they have necessarily built up over many decades. The therapeutic experience has helped them to feel safe enough to discover and reveal their own concerns, worries and needs. They realise they can find a way to rebuild and follow their own path. In other words, they have found a safe space to explore what they want. This can be a scary journey as who knows where this new path will lead? It can be an exciting one, too.

Many older women share experiences in weathering significanr losses - miscarriage, kids leaving home, divorce, bereavement, abuse, trauma, loss of work, health issues, financial concerns - with all the emotional stress these changes bring. Good therapy can help to bring a fresh perspective for older women to find a new way ahead.

In my experience, I find if we do not address our vulnerabilities (which may be unknown or unnamed to us) then such emotions can manifest as being snappy or harsh, which in turn can result in isolation and loneliness. We can become challenging to be around.   

It is important to recognise that being able to acknowledge uncertainties to oneself and to others is a source of strength. Tensions within families  and friends often emerge at this time of life; or it may be that we are more aware of the fractures appearing because we are changing. Women can take time out to reflect on their roles; a key one, in my view, is to question the ongoing emotional work they have provided to others for all those years - often at the detriment to themselves.

The old, habitual ways of coping may no longer apply and a fresh approach needs to be adopted. These women can develop a self-awareness by recognising what life experiences they can build upon; at the same time, have the courage to put to one side those aspects of their lives which are no longer proving helpful going forward. 

This leaves space for new possibilities, a new direction and ultimate fulfilment. Good therapy gives permission to these women that they have the right and the choice to make changes along with the strategies to implement them.

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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Walsall, Staffordshire, WS6
Written by Lyn Reed, MA,MBACP,Pro.Adv.Dip.PC, Pgd.Cert. in Supervision
Walsall, Staffordshire, WS6

I offer a confidential therapy service especially for those living with anxiety and stress. I have acquired considerable expertise and knowledge having worked in the social care field for many years. Having experienced life's ups and downs I understand life's road can be rocky and effective therapy and coaching often helps us to find a way through.

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