As I reflect on when I was a child, I recall having passing thoughts about death and what it might mean to die and to age when I was at this stage. I did not, however, spend a significant amount of time or energy attending to these thoughts. I primarily avoided mortality for most of my childhood and adolescence. When I ponder about why, I believe I did this largely because I was privileged to be able to do so -- frankly, I avoided thinking about and discussing these critical aspects of life because I could. It is an often spoken cliché in the field of counseling that, as counselors, we cannot choose our clients. This is not only true of clients, but it is also true of the issues they present with -- including issues of death and dying. Given that humans inevitably experience death and dying, I think counselor education surrounding processes like broaching the subject of aging and dying should be mandatory in counselor training. I also think that courses on death and dying and adult development and aging should be mandatory.
In counseling programs, I believe it is crucial that we as both counselors and counselor educators-in-training have exposure to and comfort with this subject matter and that we are able to talk about it. As counselors and counselor educators, it is likely that we will be in supervisory roles at some point in our careers. Even for those counselors who work exclusively with children, adults are likely to be a part of that child client’s family system. Given this inevitability, I think it is imperative that counselors-in-training have education in adult development and aging and end-of-life challenges. Something else that I think is important in counselor education is to talk explicitly about recommendations for working with clients who have challenges that are arguably unfixable, such as aging and dying.
In regard to the provision of counseling services, I would like for our society to understand that counselors, like other medical and mental health professionals, play an important role in gerontology and geriatric care. As helping professionals, I think there is a pervasive belief that we help our clients in any way that might mean. However, aging and dying are ‘issues’ that cannot be helped, as in solved or fixed, but we can work diligently to provide clients with tools to learn to cope with such developmental challenges. I do think it is important, however, for counselors and clients to be able to manage those expectations about how clients can be helped. Consequently, something I would like for clients to know about how counselors can help is that, while we will not be able to fix issues like aging and dying, we will make every effort to create a supportive and encouraging space for clients to share with us freely their relevant experiences and presenting issues. Something I will do to contribute to this is work toward creating such spaces by communicating unconditional positive regard, genuineness, and support to adult clients across the adultspan.
Amber M. Samuels is a doctoral candidate at The George Washington University working toward a PhD in Counseling and a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor (LGPC) in the District of Columbia. She is board-certified as a National Certified Counselor (NCC) and is an MBTI® Certified Practitioner. Amber takes an intersectional approach to counseling and utilizes an integrative theoretical orientation to guide her in helping the individuals she works with move toward optimum mental health. Her research centers around using research as a tool for advocacy and as a way to inform culturally sensitive clinical practice. You can learn more about Amber at https://www.linkedin.com/in/itsambersamuels/