Why is using a family therapist useful when dealing with an aging parent?

For some, the thought of using a therapist as a resource when dealing with an aging parent may be second nature, but for most, it is a series of valid “Why” questions. Why is this needed? Why is it useful? Why should I bring a stranger in to our family business?

While many families may recognize an aging parent needs help or may be in crisis, knowing what to do beyond an emotional response is sometimes lacking. It is in these moments where having an outside perspective not only proves beneficial, but may in fact become one of the most important decisions a family dealing with an aging parent will make.

What is a family therapist? Family therapists are mental health professionals who are trained and licensed to diagnose and treat mental health and substance abuse problems. They are trained in psychotherapy and family systems, and focus on understanding their clients’ symptoms and interaction patterns within their existing environment. Family Therapists treat from a relationship perspective that incorporates family systems. (Association of Marriage and Family Therapy)

Why are they useful to family caregivers and aging families? Families dealing with aging adults have many factors to deal with; the Caregivers perspective, the aging adult and the family dynamics in between. The role of a family therapist is not only to address the needs of the aging individual, but the family as well. So what would be the reasons for family therapy when helping an aging adult?

 Difficult decisions (Things beyond the norm, dealing with health care, financial decisions, relocation of an aging family member, etc.)
 Family members are often forced to “deal with” each other when aging in the family occurs. This may be difficult for some when opinions, perspectives and lifestyles are different. Although coming together is needed to help the aging adult, it may prove to be challenging and therefore additional assistance is needed.
 Even the most functional families may have potentially dysfunctional/challenging triggers. When the process in getting to resolutions become questionable, it’s time to ask for help.
What are some signs that a caregiver should be referred to a family therapist/counselor?
An aging family that is lacking in any of these three factors requires more assistance in dealing with demands of an aging loved one. These families will often be at high-conflict and will require significant intervention to cope with the demands to meet the aging loved ones needs.
• Attachment
• Problem solving
• Communication skills
Aging families and caregivers that have higher levels of all these are believed to need to renegotiate their family structures and meet their family member’s needs. Many times, this process is something that needs an outside perspective.

As a Caregiver, how do you know it’s time to ask for help?
• When the caregiver is isolated; they do not have any support system. (attachment, problem solving)
• When a caregiver shares stories about other relatives (i.e. sibling issues) that may exemplify dysfunction (problem solving, communication)
• When a caregiver or care receiver shows signs of depression and anxiety
• When a caregiver has difficulty getting the care receiver help/assistance (i.e. a care receiver with cognitive decline has demands that will not allow for any assistance/changes)

Family therapists are very skillful resources that are set in place to help individuals and family through difficult processes in life. If you or a family member is dealing with an aging parent/adult contact:
Leslie M. Sessley, LCSW, Psychotherapist
Sessley Counseling Services, Inc.
770-355-3075 (Decatur)
The Link Counseling Center
404-256-9797 (Sandy Springs)
lesessley@yahoo.com

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