Should Age Matter When it Comes to Looking for a Therapist?
Therapy is an extremely personal process that often requires greater vulnerability than we are normally use to, so it makes complete sense wanting to choose someone that you can feel comfortable opening up with. The concept of “shopping around” to find the right fit by reviewing different profiles, websites, articles, and setting up multiple consultations with potential therapists, is a completely natural and widely accepted process to professionals in the therapy field. Therapists recognize the significance of this decision for clients based on the vulnerability that is often required in sessions, so there is nothing wrong with a client wanting to be selective.
The therapeutic alliance is probably one of the most, if not the most important component of therapy. Without a strong bond between the therapist and client, it can be difficult to feel comfortable and safe opening up. One of the most well-known psychologists, Carl Rogers advocated for the importance of the therapeutic relationship suggesting that in order for the relationship between the therapist and client to be successful the therapist should possess the following three components: empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence. Essentially, clients want to feel comfortable and safe sharing, without fears of being judged or dismissed. Additionally, trust is such a valuable component of the relationship that the therapist needs to be able to showcase their authenticity and transparency in all interactions. If each of these three components is present, then it is said that the therapeutic relationship will have a solid foundation for efficacy throughout the process. However, does this mean age should play a significant role in the screening process as part of the therapeutic alliance?
The Advantages of Including Age as a Screening Factor
There is no mention of age being an essential factor of consideration for therapeutic alliance, however in many instances individuals do select and screen therapists based on their age. The reasons why the age of the therapist may matter can include wanting to feel connected and understood by someone who may be going through similar life transitions, events, and obstacles. Too often we feel unheard and misunderstood by others that when we arrive to therapy we just want to feel seen. Talking with a therapist around a similar age or who is slightly older may provide that unspoken feeling of being understood.
For some individuals their life experiences have told them they do not work well or feel comfortable with individuals of certain ages. They may have traumatic memories or experiences where screening based on age is helpful tool for them in order to feel safe sharing with a therapist. It can be helpful to think back to moments in your life when you have felt truly comfortable opening up and confiding in another individual. Perhaps they were someone slightly older with more life experiences under their belt, perhaps it was someone slightly younger that you were giving advice to based on your own experiences, or maybe it was someone who was around the same age and going through similar life experiences. Perhaps none of those memories comes to mind, in which case you might need to reflect on if age really matters for you.
The Disadvantages of Including Age as a Screening Factor
As a relatively “young” therapist myself, I have experienced encounters with individuals who had concerns about my age and chose not to work with me. The topic of age bias is completely relevant and should be discussed further, as it occurs from both ends of the spectrum for being too old or too young.
I can understand why it occurs as age may be very important for some individuals based on their own personal preferences. However, by filtering out any therapists who don’t meet your specific age criteria, you could potentially eliminate the opportunity to work with someone who can be helpful simply because of assumptions or preconceived notions associated with their age. It is important to note that age is not necessarily a reliable indicator for a therapist’s credentials, training, and experience as individuals can join the profession at any age. Additionally, some therapists choose to specialize in niche areas of interest while some others have experiences in a broad array of topics and issues. The notion that a therapist of a different age or generation may not understand your concerns is a common myth. A skilled and helpful therapist will be able to work to understand your concerns, needs, and goals to support and help you to reach your personal goals on a path to live a healthier and happier life. Simply put, individuals do not walk into the therapy room expecting their therapist to have endured exactly what they have in their life, but for someone to listen, to connect and empathize with them, and to support them in their experience without judgement.
Even young therapists can have experience helping clients through difficult life transitions, grief, relationships difficulties, and trauma acquired through their schooling, practicum placements, and supervised clinical experience that is foundational to become a licensed professional therapist. For individuals fresh out of school or their practicum placement, they may be eager to learn and support others. Knowledge and research may be fresh in their minds and their motivation levels to provide support can be higher. Additionally, there is potential for reduced rate fees for services with junior therapists simply because they are working towards their full licence and still require ongoing supervision. On the other end, older individuals may have additional training or specialized knowledge attained from years of experience in the field. Additionally, they may have more life experiences under their belts that can increase their capacity to empathize with their clients. Regardless, both examples do not necessarily showcase the advantage of selecting a therapist of a specific age as pros and cons can be identified for any age group – it is truly a personal preference.
Sometimes we create our own heartbreak through expectations-unknown
Ultimately, it is a completely personal decision whether to take age into consideration when looking for a therapist, but I invite you to be as open-minded about the process as a possible. It may be worthwhile to explore if you have any internal assumptions or expectations about therapy and how you envision a therapist. The aim of this post is simply to outline both perspectives of the pros and cons on age as a factor in order to help you make an informed decision during your search. At the end of the day, the decision should come down to who YOU feel most comfortable talking to and who may be the most helpful in your therapy experience.
If you would like to learn more about me and the programs I offer, please reach out to schedule time for a free consultation to see if I may be suitable for your needs.
Overholser, J. (2007). The central role of the therapeutic alliance: A simulated interview with Carl Rogers. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 37(2), 71-78.