City Research Online

Older adults’ experiences of psychotherapy

Rizopoulos, Lydia (2015). Older adults’ experiences of psychotherapy. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


There is a plethora of literature on older adults and psychological counselling. The literature reveals many assumptions and opinions of healthcare professionals and academics regarding older adults’ decision to enter into counselling or not and advice on how counselling should be conducted with older adults. Yet, there is an absence of the voices of older people in narrating their counselling encounters. This qualitative study explored how six older women constructed their decisions to enter into counselling and their experiences of counselling. Although the study was open to both older men and women, only women expressed an interest in participating. Narrative interviews were therefore conducted with former female clients of a mental health charity aged between 66 and 74. Interviews elicited individuals’ stories of counselling and a critical narrative analysis approach was used to examine each narrator’s story.

From this analysis, three overarching themes and corresponding subthemes emerged across the six narratives. Accounts highlighted the significance of generational and cultural factors in narrators’ expectations of counselling and
subsequent decision to enter into therapy. Narrators revealed long-standing patterns of projecting an outward image of wellbeing whilst struggling to manage difficult circumstances and emotions. This was often linked to generational attitudes of selfsufficiency, independent problem solving and emotional reticence. Narrators also worried about burdening loved ones with their problems. Decisions to enter into counselling were constructed within this context of emotional isolation.

Furthermore, findings highlighted the significance of people or services influencing narrators’ access to counselling. Counselling was constructed as an opportunity to focus on hearing one’s own thoughts, without outside voices impeding. Narrators also constructed identities from passive patients at the start of counselling to emerging active agents of change both in the therapeutic context and in their wider lives. Dominant cultural narratives of mental health problems and counselling were also discussed with reference to narrators’ stories. The implications of the study’s findings for referrers and counselling psychology practice were explored.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Doctoral Theses
Doctoral Theses > School of Arts and Social Sciences Doctoral Theses
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