Older Adults' Perceptions of Psychotherapy: What Is It and Who Is Responsible?

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Abstract

Objective

This study aimed to explore older peoples' attitudes towards, and understanding of, psychotherapy and their willingness to seek out psychological services for themselves.

Method

A total of 14 older adults, 10 women and 4 men, aged from 65 to 89 years, participated in semi-structured interviews which were guided by a set of open-ended questions.

Results

Thematic analysis identified three themes: the GP as the primary but problematic access point; unfamiliar terminology/familiar concept; and changing attitudes/lingering stigma. The General Practitioner was identified as the primary contact for accessing mental health services. Most participants were reluctant to disclose emotional concerns to their doctor and GPs were seen as responsible for initiating discussions about mental health. Lack of enquiry by GPs, short consultation times and unfamiliarity with psychological terminology were considered barriers for accessing treatment. Participants mostly held positive and accepting views of psychotherapy but a lingering stigma, based on historical values of stoicism and self-reliance, was evident. Reductions in societal stigma were attributed to increased exposure to mental health information via the media, however, participants appeared to confuse psychological services with counselling as this was a term that most were familiar with.

Conclusions

Health professionals need to be mindful of the terminology they use when communicating with older adults about mental health to avoid confusion. Media initiatives do lead to improved mental health literacy and a reduction of the stigma around mental illness but they also need to distinguish between available services, for example, counselling and psychological services.

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