Counseling for Older Adults

A Time of Both Losses and Opportunities

Many of the older clients I encounter say that “growing old isn’t for the faint of heart.” From the stories they share, I can understand why. It’s hard to fully anticipate how our bodies and minds will change as we get older.

An older man and woman are sitting on a bench thinking about their life together

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 the losses of:

  • Significant relationships
  • Physical or cognitive abilities
  • Independence
  • Certain roles and identities

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. This can especially be true for those with disabilities or illnesses that make it difficult for them to move independently or communicate with others.

The good news is, though, that 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

Challenges and Opportunities Not Just For Older Adults, But Their Loved Ones, Too

Caregivers of older adults face their own unique challenges. Strong feelings such as guilt, anger, resentment, depression, anxiety, or grief are commonly felt by caregivers. The risk of burnout is understandably high.

In caring for another who is suffering or in decline, caregivers 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

Yet at the same time, caregiving provides its own opportunities for growth. Caregivers can learn a lot about themselves through the process of providing care to a loved one. Caregivers may get a new understanding of who they are and what they’re capable of doing as a result of learning how to provide care in a way that honors both them and their care receiver.

Mental Health Services for Older Adults in the 21st Century

If any of these situations sounds like yours, know that you are not alone. While some amount of decline is inevitable, there are also always choices before us that will allow for growth. Much of this growth is internal, personal, and transpersonal- which are areas ripe with potential as one gets older.

Healthy, engaging, non-pharmacological ways of coping with the mental health aspects of aging exist. Music therapy is one of them. Most importantly, music therapy can address not only those areas of aging that are ripe for growth but the physical and cognitive aspects of aging as well.

Tell Me More About Your Services

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

Logistics About Therapy

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 because rapport needs to be established. However, following this foundational time, sessions can taper off to every two weeks to once a month.

Eventually, sessions will no longer be necessary. Although sometimes people find benefit from occasional check-ins. While at 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. I’m also in- network as a counselor with Aetna, Anthem (HMO and PPO), Cigna, United Healthcare ComPsych, and Profile EAP.

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.

Music Therapy

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. We can create and investigate 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 specific therapeutic goals unrelated to music. Music within this therapeutic context can be thought of as a tool, a vehicle for personal exploration, growth, and development.

On the other hand, the focus of music lessons is musical development. Although that isn’t to say that a person may not find lessons to be therapeutic. SoundWell provides 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 music therapy makes music accessible through modifying and accommodating as much as possible. As well, the process is the focus of the work in therapy, rather than the creation of a final product, as with music lessons.

BENEFITS OF MUSIC THERAPY FOR OLDER ADULTS

Below are some vignettes highlighting my therapeutic work with older adults. Each one illustrates a different aspect of aging. These descriptions are to help you see the ways in which I’ve been able to use music and the therapeutic relationship to help older adults enhance their quality of life and sense of well-being.

Healthy Aging and Life Transitions

A Client Who Retired Recently

The client recently retired from a profession in which they were in the minority. They were struggling with their identity and the choices made in life. Mortality and concern about the direction their elder years would take were also voiced.

Together, we explored their life through musical life review, wherein they selected songs that were meaningful to them from different phases of their life. Following each song, we’d talk about the life circumstances of that time and the gifts that were gained from those experiences. This was helpful for them to gain a greater perspective and appreciation for the things they’d accomplished in her life. A renewed confidence in facing elderhood was instilled.

When the client’s thoughts were getting too “heady”, we’d switch to vocalizing. These vocalizations involved either a relevant phrase that seemed to reflect the client’s experience or toning a single vowel on a single pitch. These vocal experiences were helpful in getting them to connect with their underlying feelings, as well as grieve the paths in life they didn’t take. Vocalizing was also helpful for them to be able to embrace who they are while coming to recognize the ways in which they could continue to contribute and give back to others.

Adults with Memory or Cognitive Impairment

A non-verbal client in the late stages of dementia

After speaking with the family about the client’s musical background and preferences, I identified a few songs that I thought they’d respond to in some way. Taking into account the sensory needs of someone in their physical condition, I was careful to position myself in such a way that ensured that I could be seen and heard. I’d regularly sing familiar gospel songs to which they would appear to smile, tap their foot or fingers to the beat, or mouth along to the words.

During one session which was also attended by family, I began singing a song I knew the client enjoyed. Soon after I started, the client began singing along. What’s more, the client was able to share a brief relevant memory after we finished singing. This was incredibly moving and meaningful for the family.

End-of-Life

WWII Veteran in the Late Stages of COPD

Due to the realities of end-of-life care, every session was different. Frequently I’d sing the songs that he wanted to hear from the War era. Since speaking was difficult for him, I’d provide him with different ways of choosing songs so that he could easily choose.

When he was appearing to become anxious, I’d entrain the music with his breathing and watch for his response. During these times, he’d appear to become more relaxed. His breathing would deepen. At times he’d grow tearful.

Still, other times when he was more energized, I’d play recordings of the Big Band songs he requested. During these times, he’d smile and tap his toes. Sometimes he had enough energy to verbalize his experience and share his memories.

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. This includes a deep, heartfelt understanding of the needs and challenges of family caregivers. I co-teach the Powerful Tools for Caregivers course, offered for free through the Boulder County Area Association of Aging. Above all, I’m a strong proponent of aging well through creativity and contemplation.

Ok. I’m Convinced. What Do I Need to Do Next?

If you have further questions about music therapy or the services that SoundWell Music Therapy offers, you can contact me by email. Otherwise, I offer a free 30-minute consultation by phone or at my office that you can schedule here. During this consultation, we’ll talk more specifically about your situation and how I might be able to help you.