Deteriorating mental health is not an inevitable part of ageing, says BACP member Helen Kewell, who has published a book on her work with older adults.
Helen is a member of BACP’s Older People Expert Reference Group and is determined to change societal attitudes towards the mental health of older adults.
“There is a perception among some that age brings with it challenges, and that poor mental health is to be expected,” she said.
“There’s a societal acceptance that you are going to be quite down as you progress in life, but I just don’t accept that. There is so much more we can be doing.
“Because of that societal acceptance, the mental health of older adults gets little airtime. It’s not at the sexy end of mental health.
“But 80 is going to be the new 60. Those of us who live now are likely to live longer and talking about the mental health of someone who has 20 or 30 years left to live is really important.”
Helen fulfilled a lifelong ambition of becoming an author when Living Well and Dying Well: tales of counselling older people was published by PCCS Books.
The book examines her counselling of older adults, an area of literature Helen says currently has “a very big gaping hole”.
The idea for it developed from her final case study when she graduated as a counsellor. The case study was published in Therapy Today.
“I always wanted to write but I never had anything to say before,” said Helen who runs a private practice in Sussex and volunteers as a counsellor, supervisor and provides CPD for Cruse Bereavement Care.
“I didn’t feel I had a real voice or something to talk about that I was passionate about, until then.
“It all came together with that case study and the fact I was passionate about it.”
Living Well and Dying Well developed from an article, ‘Waiting for the Southsea Bus’ (Therapy Today, May 2017), and Helen says she received guidance on the project from Catherine Jackson, editor of Therapy Today.
The book includes eight case studies, as Helen describes her encounters with the older people with whom she has worked as a counsellor and weaves in her own personal reflections.
It was launched at The Book Shop in East Grinstead – “it was important to me to host it in an independent book shop and it was important it was local” – and she has been delighted with the reception it has received.
Helen said: “I have had people reach from across the country and even from Australia.
“It’s unearthed a lot of pockets of this work that are happening all over the place and people that are passionate about it, which has been so rewarding for me.
“I have also had lovely responses from people who have read it who are not counsellors, who have elderly parents, or work in care homes and feel it gives some perspective to their work.
“It’s not just about propping up people because they are older and sending them on their way, it’s about listening, growth and change, and that has been a really rewarding part of how it’s been received.”
What advice would she give our members who are also thinking about writing a book?
“Do it!” she said. “Counsellors in general are articulate. That’s our job.
“I’d say write. Write a lot. Write reflectively about your work, even if you are not going to get that particular bit published. It’s like a muscle you keep exercising.
“If you have something you want to say then email editors. There are online magazines like Therapy Minded and Counsellors Café who are always looking for content and it’s an accessible place to start getting published.
“And read lots. I get the most inspiration from reading other people’s work.”
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Living Well and Dying Well: tales of counselling older people by Helen Kewell is available now from PCCS books.