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What I Actually Learned from Going into Therapy at 69

By Elizabeth Dunkel July 31, 2021 Mindset

If you were to meet me, you’d think I am cheerful, outgoing, optimistic, energetic. And I am all these things. But there’s “the me you can’t see,” as Oprah says. That me, until I started therapy, was ruminating about the past, grieving, filled with woulda, coulda, shoulda, terrified at the prospect of aging, feeling lonely, and dark.

Yes, all this, coming from a swimming, biking, walking, knitting, writing, reading, cooking, traveling, yogi, mother, cousin, aunt, friend.

The time had come to stop burdening my friends with my endless thoughts. Friends can only be friends. I needed to break free of the past; resolve, understand and accept it so I could move on with creating the best final years of my life.

In Part 1 of this short article series, I discussed finding a therapist and making the decision to try therapy online. Here are some observations from my actual experience.

Online Vs. In Person

The pros of online: It’s easy. You don’t have to leave your home in inclement weather, and you don’t need to carve out commuting time to a therapist’s office. There’s the ease of making and cancelling appointments without making phone calls or leaving messages.

It’s flexible; you can do it almost 24/7 from anywhere in the world. Finding a therapist who speaks your language is important for those who live in non-English speaking countries. Online is less expensive than in person.

Online therapy sites also offer resources, like “groupinars” on topics such as… “Grief and Loss: Understanding How to Move Forward,” “Boundary Setting,” “Coping Skills for Stress and Depression.” The communication with the therapist is more casual in that she sends me things to read or thoughts to consider before our session. She encourages me to message her if I have anything I want to share.

I Guarantee Your Therapist Is Younger Than You

“How old are you?” I asked my therapist. “I’m in my 30s,” she replied. Okay, I wondered, how is this going to work? I had always spoken to someone older and wiser. Well, reality check, at our age, you will not find someone older and wiser than yourself. Hint: older therapists are retired.

I had a choice, and I decided to be open minded and give her a chance. She had psychoanalytic training. She was interested in and had experience in the issues I want to work on. I like how young people think today, so maybe what I needed was exactly a younger person’s fresh approach to my issues.

When I talk about my aging issues, I’m aware that she can’t “feel” or understand what I’m talking about, because old age isn’t something you can imagine. But I felt received and heard by a person. Empathic listening. The most important thing is that I liked her as a human being, and in the therapeutic relationship, that’s almost everything.

Therapy is mystical. It’s about asking a complete stranger to join you in exploring your inner depths with someone who can “hold your hand.” This is something that we can’t really demand of our friends. I noticed that I felt better after our sessions, but I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why, or what it was that she’d said.

What Did I Want to Talk About?

Ruminations about my past. Regrets for things I didn’t do. Recognizing past traumas that I had totally ignored. Learning how to process the trauma. Grieving. Fear of the future, of aging and what it would mean and look like for me.

My own ageism. I needed to accept and forgive myself for things I had done – and hadn’t done. What happens to your sexuality when your body is sagging, wrinkled, spotted. Dealing with ever-diminishing physical capabilities.

Modern Therapy and the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Model

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (as opposed to psychotherapy) is the current vogue in therapy. In its most simple terms, it’s about identifying what behavior or patterns are destructive and don’t serve you in your life. It’s about learning what you want and what you need to change to get it.

It’s functional and active. You set goals, decide what you want to achieve and figure out the steps of how to get there. And then you take those steps.

My therapist sends me things to read and links to online resources. She messages me a few things to think about in advance of our next session. She constantly pushes me towards positivity and healing.

A New Mood

Therapy at age 69 is not the Sturm and Drang of therapy in my young days. I am freer and less concerned about approval. I can authentically be myself. I have lived many years, and I learned I have more power and compassion than I give myself credit for. It has been very eye opening and satisfying.

The past is a heavy thing to carry around. I have forgiven myself for the woulda, coulda, shoulda and have a great appreciation for my depth and accomplishment. I have discovered some new strengths and goals for the way I want to live the next, last years of my life.

Aging is scary as hell, I told my therapist. You don’t think about it all your life until you get “here.” No one teaches you how to be old; you have to figure it out yourself.

I am lucky to have the wonderful role models of my mother and grandmother. They dressed beautifully, put on their lipstick, and showed up for life with wonder and enjoyment.

So, my friends, be brave and carry on — and think about therapy if you need a little help.

What has been your experience with therapy? Does the thought of it appeal to you – or terrify you? Do you think it might benefit you at this moment in your life? What would you seek therapy for?

Author’s Note: If you, or someone you know, are in crisis or any other danger, please seek professional help immediately. This article does not deal with serious trauma or life/death incidents, but rather, with more typical “light” issues of depression and anxiety. *

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The Author

Elizabeth Dunkel is a writer and novelist who recently moved back to the U.S. after living in Merida, Mexico for 25 years. Elizabeth is the proud founder of the Merida English Library. As a Cambridge CELTA certified teacher of ESL, she considers herself not just a teacher but a dream maker. “Teaching English empowers people to reach their dreams.”

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