Counseling for Older Adults

Mental Health Care for Older Adults in the 21st Century

Growing older can be painful and unsettling, difficult in both expected and unpredictable ways. We all know as we journey through the years some degree of loss is inevitable. As we get older, each of us is bound to experience:

  • Loss of significant relationships

  • Loss of physical or cognitive abilities

  • Loss of independence

  • Loss of certain roles

Indeed, feelings of loss may begin to feel like the uncomfortable new normal. Adapting to–and making peace with–the changes that come with aging can be challenging. You are not alone.

Challenges For Caregivers

Caregivers of older adults face their own unique challenges. Caregivers may feel strong feelings of guilt, anger, resentment, depression, anxiety, or grief. The risk of burnout is understandably high. In caring for another who is suffering or in decline, carers may struggle with:

  • The change in the relationship: new roles, different dynamics

  • The physical and emotional demands of providing care

  • Managing other family conflicts that may arise

  • Financial concerns

The good news is, old age can be a time for profound growth. The process of aging invites a person to:

  • Rediscover who they are

  • Find new ways of making meaning and identifying life purpose

  • Grow spiritually or transpersonally

You Are Not Alone. 

If you’re a concerned caregiver of an older adult, know you aren’t alone. If you’re an older adult seeking a different kind of aging experience, know you too are not alone. While we face a certain amount of decline as we age, there are always choices before us.

Avenues are open to us that offer opportunities to maintain a high quality of life that provides one with dignity and respect. We may need to make adjustments when it comes to defining what quality of life looks like as we take on different phases of life–but we can continue to stretch our limits, and to maintain meaning and purpose throughout our lives.

Most of the important answers we seek won’t come prepackaged. There are healthy, engaging, non-pharmacological ways of coping with the more uncomfortable aspects of aging.

Aging Unlike Any Other Generation

Older adults today are experiencing aging in a way that is unlike any other generation. On the positive side, older adults today generally have access to resources that will allow them to maintain a high quality of life. Conversely, this is a challenging an uncertain time in our society. Further, within this changing world, and with increased longevity, an increasing number of people are living with chronic health conditions. All these factors and more can bring up a whole slew of strong, overwhelming feelings and concerns. Music therapy can help.

Tell Me More About Your Services…

Here are some questions people frequently ask about the mental health and therapeutic music services I offer:

How often would we meet, and how much does it cost?

 

The length of therapy varies by person, dependent upon a variety of factors. Typically, there is a period of a few months wherein weekly therapy sessions are necessary. However, following this foundational time, sessions can taper off to every two weeks to once a month, eventually no longer being necessary. Sometimes people find benefit from occasional check-ins; other times, they find reward in transitioning to music lessons. While personal circumstances vary, generally the more complicated and complex a person’s situation is, the more time may be needed. The music therapy and counseling services offered by SoundWell Music Therapy are one hour-long and cost $90 an hour when provided in Longmont, or $100 when provided outside of Longmont.

My loved one or I am home-bound. Can you come to us?

Yes, we can come to clients who live in Boulder County. This includes traveling to either private residences or to long-term care communities.

How could music make therapy more effective for my loved one or me?

Music can “amplify” the skills and insights gained from therapy. This is because music impacts us in many different, multifaceted ways. We are neurologically and physiologically hard-wired to respond to music. Moreover, music can connect us to unrecognized thoughts and feelings while also serving as a means of communication and self-expression. Regardless of age or ability, music can create and investigate new ways of being by engaging with music. Furthermore, music is accessible to us, regardless of age or ability. We can always create new ways of being by engaging with music.

How is music therapy different from taking music lessons?

Music therapy and music lessons have very different goals and focus. In therapy, the key focus is on achieving some benefit or relief in an area of being that has been negatively affecting one’s ability to function in life. Music within this therapeutic context can be thought of as a tool, a vehicle for personal exploration, growth, and development. On the other hand, while a person may find music lessons to be therapeutic, the focus of this structure is musical development. SoundWell does provide adapted music lessons to those who may benefit from an adapted approach. See our Studio Policy for more information.

My loved one or I am not musical, can music therapy still be beneficial?

Musical knowledge or ability isn’t necessary because, in therapy, music is made accessible through making accommodations as are necessary and possible. As well, the work in therapy is oriented on the process, as opposed to creating a final product.

 

BENEFITS OF MUSIC THERAPY FOR OLDER ADULTS

Below are some vignettes from my work providing mental health and music therapy services to older adults. In the interest of protecting client confidentiality and privacy, the adults and situations described are composite snapshots and do not describe my work with any one particular client. Rather, these descriptions are to help you see the ways in which I have been able to use music and the therapeutic relationship to help older adults struggling with mental and physical health challenges.

Personal Growth and Positive Aging

Challenge: A woman recently retired from a male-dominated profession. She was struggling with who she was as a woman and the choices she made in her life. She was also confronting her mortality and worried about the direction her elder years would take.

Treatment Plan/Results: Together, we explored her life through musical life review, wherein she selected songs that were meaningful to her from different phases of her life. Following each song, we would talk about the circumstances of her life at the time and the gifts that she gained from those experiences. This helped her gain a greater perspective and appreciation for the things she’d accomplished in her life–instilling renewed confidence in facing elderhood.

When her thoughts seemed to get too “heady”, and she became disconnected from her feelings, we would switch to vocalizing. These vocalizations involved either a relevant phrase that seemed to reflect her present experience or toning a single vowel on a single pitch. These vocal experiences helped her tap into her true underlying feelings, grieve the paths not taken, embrace her current self, and come to recognize the ways in which she could continue to contribute and give back to others.

Adults with memory/Cognitive impairment

Challenge: A non-verbal woman in the late stages of dementia.

Treatment Plan/Results: After speaking with the family about her musical background and preferences, I identified a few songs that I thought she would respond to in some way. Taking into account the sensory needs of someone in her physical condition, I was careful to position myself in such a way that ensured she could see and hear me. I would regularly sing familiar gospel songs to which she would appear to smile, tap her foot or fingers to the beat, or mouth along to the words. During one session which was also attended by her son, I began singing a song he had told me she had particularly enjoyed. Soon she started singing along. What’s more, at the song’s conclusion, she was able to share a brief relevant memory. Her son was moved with joy to hear his mother’s voice again.

END-OF-LIFE

Challenge: A WWII veteran in the late stages of COPD was receiving hospice treatment. He had a history of alcoholism, and his relationship with his children was strained as a result. The disease made it difficult for him to speak for long periods of time, but he made it clear that he was struggling with his experiences of seeing and engaging in combat during the war.

Treatment Plan/Results: Due to the realities of end-of-life care, every session was different. When I would observe him to be anxious, I would sing the songs he wanted to hear, entraining the music with his breath and watching his facial affect. Though his wartime experiences were troubling him, he regularly wanted to hear songs from that time in his life, and I’d provide him with different ways of choosing songs so that it wouldn’t be taxing on him to make his preferences known. During these times, he would appear to become more relaxed. His breathing would deepen. At times he would grow tearful. Other times, when he seemed to have more energy, I would play recordings of Big Band songs he requested. During these experiences, he would smile and tap his toes. Sometimes he had enough energy to verbalize his experience and share his memories.

In cases such as this one, family members are welcome to join sessions when they can. On occasions that this particular client’s family attended, they were inspired by the music to share mutually fond memories of their loved one and of their childhoods. When moved to, they would share with me the conflicting emotions they were feeling towards him and his terminal prognosis. As a therapist, I could empathize and validate their experience, reassuring them that their unique individual grieving process was normal.

 

My Experience as a Therapist Working with Older Adults

With over 8 years of experience working with older adults and in end-of-life care, I’m sensitive to the unique and complex needs that come with aging. Included with this comes a heartfelt understanding of the needs and challenges of family caregivers. I am a strong proponent of aging well through creative approaches. I’m also a class leader of the Powerful Tools for Caregivers course, a 6-week, evidence-based, psychoeducational group offered for free through Area Associations of Aging around the United States.

ok. I’m convinced. What do I need to do next?

Contact Faith to schedule a free 30-minute consultation if you think that you or an older adult you know could benefit from the music therapy and counseling services offered by SoundWell Music Therapy. We’ll be happy to arrange a time when we can talk more about your particular situation and to schedule an initial session.