Something is out of balance. We live in a youth-saturated culture, drenched in images of smooth-skinned, lithe-limbed folks gamboling across our magazines, gracing ads for everything from investment deals to bedsheets, and generally plastering themselves across social media to showcase their hotness and inexhaustible energy. A person would be forgiven for thinking that there are more young people in our country than any other age group.
But the numbers tell a different story. We know the rough outline: Baby Boomers are causing an uptick in the size of the older population. What we may not realize is that the uptick is more like a surge. According to the Census Bureau, by 2034 the country will be home to more people 65 and over than people under 18—for the first time in U.S. history. More older folks than ever will be working, spending time with family, grappling with change and loss, seeking sources of meaning, facing new issues with partners, struggling to accept mortality. And yes, seeking therapy.
Are therapists ready? Many clinicians have limited experience working with older individuals, since this population has been somewhat less likely to seek therapy than younger age groups. But the reluctance isn’t just on the client end. Many therapists subscribe to the same myths about aging as the rest of society: in particular, the notion that elders are too set in their ways to do the work required to change. Our field’s biases show up in our education priorities. Few therapy training programs offer adequate courses on working with older adults, and workshops on the topic are sparse. We at the Networker have contributed to this gap.
But we’d like to change that, starting with this issue. In a variety of clinical pieces and two humorous first-person essays, we explore the changing, sometimes challenging needs that attend aging, as well as the often unforeseen rewards of working with older people and their families.
We also probe the negative myths that surround this stage of life—beliefs that aren’t just insulting, but can actually damage a person’s health. As one of our authors, Amy Schaffer, observes, older adults aren’t just worth our time, they may be among the most rewarding clients we’ll work with. The reason: “They don’t have time to fool around.” As these motivated clients come into our offices in greater numbers, they’ll expect us to be well-versed in the issues they’re wrestling with—and to take them seriously. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask. After all, if we haven’t faced our own aging already, we’ll be there soon enough.
Livia Kent, MFA, is the editor in chief of Psychotherapy Networker. She worked for 10 years with Rich Simon as managing editor of Psychotherapy Networker, and taught writing at American University as well as for various programs around the country. As a bibliotherapist, she’s facilitated therapy groups in Washington, DC-area schools and in the DC prison system. In 2020, she was named one of Folio Magazine’s Top Women in Media “Change-Makers.” She’s the recipient of Roux Magazine‘s Editor’s Choice Award, The Ledge Magazine‘s National Fiction Award, and American University’s Myra Sklarew Award for Original Novel.