CAT in later life

There are a range of therapists working throughout the UK who use CAT and CAT-informed approaches with people in later life. CAT, with its starting point of a therapeutic dialogue with a unique individual, is inherently adaptable to a diverse range of potential clients crossing the whole range of ages, differing skills and disabilities.

Having been asked, by an editor some years ago, to write a section for a new book entitled: "Who are the Elderly?", I began to think more clearly about how ageism impinges on the availability of psychotherapies for older people. CAT, with its developmental perspective, views a client as a 'work in progress', a culmination of all the events, experiences and relationships that have resulted in the person in the here and now, but also with the hopeful possibility that, as in any part of life, the journey goes on and that transformation and change for the better may be obtainable. In this sense, therapy is (as Ann Orbach has said) 'not too late' but 'just in time'.

‘The Elderly’ is therefore an unhelpful stereotype that says almost nothing about an individual person. That said, these are common themes and skills that can be shared between therapists working in later life that need to be developed in the NHS and beyond due to the fact that access to and take up of psychotherapies by older people has been historically poor and shows only slow signs of progress.

Later life can bring with it losses and challenges (eg: Ill health, bereavement, retirement) that can resonate with earlier experiences of distress and unmanageable feelings. In CAT, these can be reflected on to help a person find understanding, acceptance and a new purpose and direction at this developmental stage of their life.

help a person find understanding, acceptance and a new purpose and direction at this developmental stage of their life

An 86 year old client who completed a CAT therapy described it as helping her to ‘grow up at last’. It seems important to try to remove any age barriers to access to CAT and other therapies. There seems no need to have separate psychotherapy services for older people and, also, that a comprehensive training experience in CAT would involve seeing clients across the age range so that each therapist gets to glimpse what it may be like to be at a later stage on life’s journey.

If you would like to think about some of these issues more, Laura Sutton and I have co-edited ‘CAT in Later Life – new perspective on old age’. Reformulation is always keen to publish material of particular interest to those working with older people so please share your experiences with us all.

Jason Hepple


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