Do Older Adults Have Counseling Needs?

Jun 06 2018

This question, while rhetorical, does serve as a mental stimulus for those of us interested in the overall welfare of maturing adults. 

Studies investigating this question have discovered something quite intriguing – the most urgent counseling needs of older adults are not physical, i.e. food, clothing, shelter, medical care, insurance, etc.

The most urgent needs of older persons are in the area that might be called affective needs, or psycho-social concerns or, personal concerns.  In seminal work on this topic (Fleer, 1975) it was found that the highest rated needs in order of importance were:

  1. Sense of self-worth
  2. At least one close friend
  3. Feel productive
  4. Reduction of ageism
  5. Sense of belonging
  6. Control over decision-making
  7. Feel useful
  8. Overcome loneliness

In a follow-up study (Ganikos, 1977) “adjustment to life” and “personal adjustment” categories emerged as those containing the counseling needs of highest priority. 

  1. Discovering new interests
  2. Exploring new life options
  3. Finding more meaning in life
  4. Learning to make better decisions
  5. Adjusting to a new life style
  6. Developing new personal goals
  7. Learning to be more self-accepting

In a third study (Myers, 1978) it was found that “personal concerns” around the notion of “self-acceptance” emerged as the area of greatest expressed need.

These three studies clearly demonstrate the need for supportive services for older persons that focus on the personal rather than environmental areas of living.  All three of these studies, while expertly accomplished, failed to focus on the spiritual needs of maturing adults. As I reflect on these surprising findings that “personal concerns” are the most urgent needs of older adults, I can’t help but think that had these researchers asked questions related to “spiritual personal concerns” that these may have emerged as the most urgent “personal needs” of maturing adults.  What do you think?

Johnson Institute Course 104: Spiritual Counseling and Spiritual Direction with Senior Adults deals with all of the above and so very much more enlightening material that can be used in faith formation efforts.  I urge you to take a look. 

In God’s peace,

Richard P. Johnson, PhD


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