The mental health of older people is often overlooked, with much depression and anxiety in older adults across the UK unrecognised, undiagnosed and untreated. Research shows that the likelihood of being prescribed medication and not referred to therapy increases with age.

We believe that age should not be a barrier to receiving treatment and support whenever it is needed and that’s why we have developed our older people strategy.

Working with BACP members, a range of partner organisations and across the full range of BACP functions, we are exploring ways to:

  1. increase the numbers of older people who access therapy
  2. increase the availability and provision of counselling to older people

We’re taking a broad view of the definition of ‘older people’ and are focusing on the life events and transitions that happen more frequently (though not exclusively) to people aged 50+. This covers a large number of issues, age-ranges and experiences, including long-term conditions, end of life and bereavement.

Updates - April 2018


There's a lack of research into the effectiveness and perceptions of counselling for older people. In promoting the value of therapy to clients, practitioners and commissioners, it's vital that we offer evidence that counselling changes lives.

We're offering a part-time PhD studentship to investigate the role of counselling in care homes. BACP research manager Amy Clarke says: “With higher than average rates of depression amongst the 400,000 care home residents in the UK, we must better understand how their needs can be met. This PhD study will add to the knowledge of what works best for care home residents by exploring the current state of counselling provision and identifying ways that access to counselling can be improved for older people.”

The closing date for applications is 30 April 2018.

Calling for increased access to therapy for older people

BACP was part of the consortium that has developed the new MindEd for Older People website. This online educational resource explains mental illnesses commonly experienced by older people and offers practical advice for dealing with them. Information is aimed at older adults, families worried about older relatives, professionals and volunteers working with older people and will be of interest to counselling practitioners working with older adults.

In England in 2015 to 16, only 6% per cent of all referrals into the Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) service were for people aged over 65, yet when older people do access the service, they are more likely to complete treatment and have better clinical outcomes than younger people.  MindEd for Older People can play a vital role in making people of all ages aware of the mental health risks and warning signs of later life and encouraging those affected to take action.

Promoting working with older people to BACP members

In March 2018, we organised a round table meeting for members with an interest in working with older adults. We considered how barriers to older people seeking and receiving help for their mental health can be overcome and how the role of counselling can be better understood and articulated.

Emerging themes were the need to recognise the unnecessary barriers of language and imagery that is often used to promote therapy and the self-stigma that results in many older people considering seeking help as ‘weakness’.

BACP counsellor Sian Waring-Jones also highlighted the important role of primary care: “Older people tend to do what the doctor says without questioning, unlike younger people. The GP has a lot of power to influence and reassure. If they could explain the efficacy of counselling and arrange it for their older patient, that would help.”

We're establishing an older people expert reference group, offering members a range of opportunities to support our work to increase access and provision of therapy to older people. If you're interested, please register through the BACP volunteers scheme.

Notes from our Older people round table meeting (pdf 0.6MB)


If you would like to share your experience on working with older people or to receive a bi-monthly update on the work within the BACP older people strategy, please email