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Conferences (abstracts accepted)

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‘They Need Us to Think Differently: Senior Friendly Psychotherapy’

The current cohort of advanced seniors are often not familiar with psychotherapy, nor seek it, however psychological distress for this group can be high. Men aged eighty-five and over in Australia have the highest rate of suicide and a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare revealed in 2013 that more than half of care home residents in their study had depressive symptoms. Current models of psychological practice, irrespective of modality, are limited for an advanced senior population because they do not consider generational nuances. They assume literacy with the purpose of psychological intervention, client motivation and a degree of comfort in psychological help seeking. Moreover, traditional models of psychological practice emphasize pathology and can assume an expert role. Such approaches can be alienating, uncomfortable and disempowering for an advanced senior population. Two models are suggested to guide the clinician. The ‘Flexicare Model’ aims to improve relevancy, comfort and accessibility of psychotherapy for seniors by seeing informal engagement as foundational to formal encounters of multimodal intervention, advocacy work and evidence-based interventions for specific issues such as complex grief and trauma. Informal engagement is covertly therapeutic through life story consultation, reflective listening skills and the identification of abilities or values. The ‘Senior Friendly Service Delivery Matrix’ is a four-part multi-systemic model. It starts by offering an innovative approach to engagement. Then it suggests ways to adapt interventions to suit a range of physical and cognitive limitations. Third it questions the status quo of programs around consent and evaluation. Finally, it explores how clinicians can guard against subtle forms of ageism and examines society’s relationship with death and decline. Together these models ask us to think differently about how we practice psychotherapy with older adults, especially those in residential care, to maximize good mental health outcomes and quality of life.



Felicity Chapman is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker in South Australia who has specialized in work with advanced seniors for fifteen years. Her book, ‘Counselling and Psychotherapy with Older People in Care: A Support Guide’ through Jessica Kingsley Publishers, was a nominee for the 2019 Australasian Journal on Ageing Book Award. Currently she works in and coordinates the ‘Your Story’ program through Summit Health CONNECTcare which delivers psychological services onsite to aged care residents across the Adelaide Hills region.

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