When I was a Marriage and Family Therapist, I worked with senior individuals and families who wanted to make changes in their relationships and life situations. I was often asked, “Why do you want work with older people? Aren’t they are old and set in their ways!” It was my experience, however, that older people do change and adapt – that they can change — at any age.
Bette Davis said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies,” and I agree with her. Older adults survive the loss of friends and spouses, major changes in society, and unexpected changes in their own lifestyle. They survive many changes in their bodies and minds due to normal aging, and they adapt to chronic health problems that accompany aging.
The following story illustrates why I was so satisfied in my work with seniors.
Jim was a ninety-year old widower who came to see me. He said, “My wife died and I’ve had a terrible new insight. I now realize that I have a great relationship with my daughter and a very poor relationship with my son.” Jim went on to explain, “I never worried about it before my wife died because she got along so well with our first-born child. But now I’m thinking this isn’t right. I need to repair this before I die. So I’d like to talk to you to see what I can do.”
Meeting with Jim
I knew that Jim was a man with much inner strength, including a great sense of humour. I also recognized that he belonged to a generation that was not very comfortable with the idea of asking others for help. He could easily be stereotyped as set in his ways and unwilling to change. Some might think that it is too late to change at 90!
Jim and I talked about the process and possible value of counselling. And in talking about what we might do together about his problem, I asked, “Do you think it will take very long for you to do this work?” He replied, “It better not! I don’t even buy green bananas!”
We had two sessions together. We discussed the model SMART Conversations. Then he went to meet with his son. He came back and told me, “We are on the road to a new relationship.”
That kind of insight is far from being “old and set in your ways.” Jim was saying, I need to do something, and I need to do it quickly, and I am going to follow through.
Older adults can change — at any age
It has been my experience that older adults are very adaptable. Just think of Jim’s willingness to come for counselling when he is part of a generation that felt therapy meant you were “crazy.” Think of his willingness to admit that he played a role in his negative relationship with his son. He didn’t hide behind the adage, “Father knows best.” Jim took responsibility to change this situation and for healing the relationship with his son. Proving that you can change — at any age!
I am not alone in noticing how older adults change.
How your personality changes as you age. Zaria Gorvett. March 16, 2020. bbc.com