In this third and last of my three-part series on how therapy can help gay men age gracefully, I’d like to share how therapy can help you be at your best domestically and financially. (In Part I, we covered emotionally and physically, and in Part II , we covered socially and culturally).
As a specialist in therapy for gay men for over 24 years, I’ve worked with gay youth, gay men at middle age, and gay seniors. I focus on helping you be at your best, at every stage of life. I always say there is both a challenge, and a reward, at each of these stages. Erik Erickson, historic theorist and therapist, described this in his Stages of Life theory. It’s about achieving balance; at every age, we would love to have all the advantages and none of the disadvantages, but life doesn’t work that way (usually). For most of us, we have to learn how to enjoy the pluses of each stage, while developing what we shrinks call “adaptive coping strategies” for the minuses.
Many guys might wonder how a therapist helps with healthy aging domestically and financially, since therapists are not housekeepers or financial planners, but actually there are a number of ways, depending on the therapist’s style. I don’t sit back and say “uh-huh” for an hour; I use an engaged, interactive style that directly and actively encourages you to get closer to your goals in each week’s session, so that you can realize what I call the Vision of your Ideal Personal and Professional Self, however you define those for yourself.
Healthy aging is primarily about taking care of yourself for the long term, living your best life possible, and in the previous articles I covered important areas. But the domestic and the financial need their own attention, but they can be more subtle and easily overlooked.
Healthy aging for gay men domestically means that you are creating a comfortable home space for yourself, whether you’re in your first apartment out of school, or you’re in senior housing in very advanced years. The basics of food, clothing, shelter, temperature control, and access to health care are important at any age. The older we get, the more we assemble sources of human support, such as a partner/spouse, siblings, neighbors, friends, people in our community, and professionals (doctors, nurses, therapists, specialists). We might find a supportive resource in our belongings, such as having collected souvenirs throughout a lifetime, or treasured photos. We might derive support from companion animals/pets.
What is the role of therapy in supporting you domestically?
If you’re single at any point in your life, whether just being young with no relationships yet, or after a breakup or even being widowed, therapy can help support you in coaching your dating skills that fit with the age and developmental stage of life that you are. Dating in your 40’s is different from dating in your 20’s, and over the years, just from working with so many guys, I have some idea of “best practices” to put yourself in the best light at any of those stages.
Therapy can help you identify and challenge your own resistance to doing the things you know you “should” be doing, such as taking better care of yourself. You might feel conflicted, trying to bridge the gap between what you know you “should” do, or even think you “want” to do, and what actually happens. Exploring this helps clear the way for you to get what you want.
I do quite a bit of coaching for gay male introverts, because to have the social support you need, you need to be assertive to make new friends, colleagues, networking connections, and other types of interpersonal relationships. My articles on social skills for shy guys get a lot of traffic, and social anxiety is a common (though hidden) problem for many. Being socially assertive is one way to prevent the isolation that can come with aging, certainly with seniors, but also at midlife. If you’re feeling isolated, you can start with the professional relationship with a therapist first, and then use that work to find ways to make new connections with others.
I make a lot of referrals within the community, or to books or online resources. If you’re not taking the best care of yourself, I help guys find a gay (or gay-friendly) physician, financial planner, dentist, organizer, trainer, etc. I learn from my own research, experience, and from my clients over the years who the best resources are, and then I share that knowledge with you. In order to be at your best, you have to assemble a team of professionals and supports to help you get there.
Healthy aging helps you answer the question, “What is my role in the community?” Some of the most active, robust lifestyles of guys I know involve a lot of community activity, such as volunteering or being active with entertainments, sporting events, activism, or other ways of just getting out and being with others who share similar interests. This is true whether you are quite young, middle-aged, or senior. (My grandfather lived to be in his 90’s. He was always very social, running the town grocery store for many years and being like a celebrity everywhere he went, table-hopping at restaurants in his small city in Virginia. Even in his nursing home toward the end of his life, he would limp (after a stroke) to the music room for sing-along day, and sing (well) the loudest of them all. He knew all the residents and pretended like it was his job to visit their rooms and entertain them, to which my grandmother would smile, shake her head, and say (in her adorable Southern twang), “He is just never still. He goes alla’ time.”) That’s the lesson I learned from him: “Go alla’ time!”
The other critical part of healthy aging domestically is to very regularly do a Personal Needs Assessment. What do you need emotionally, that guides your behavior? Are you bored, and need to get out of the house more? Have things gotten messy, and you need to just stay home and tidy up, and get organized? Part of therapy for domestic concerns is to brainstorm what changes you want to see in your home, and then apply Time Management skills to get them done, and a therapist can help you get organized, stay focused, and accomplish what you set out to do, more so than if you were left alone with this.
While some therapists will vary on this, I help my clients look at the financial side of their mental health. I have previous article on 7 ways to take care of your financial self. If you’re in a lot of debt, that causes anxiety. If you’re not earning enough, that can cause depression. If you have bad spending/saving habits, you can feel out of control and worried about your long-term goals. If you don’t know how to think about your retirement and long-term financial security, you can feel lost and lose out on the benefits of investing. Being coached on all of these skills can make a big difference for lasting improvement, and can contribute both to your overall mental health as well as your healthy aging for the long term.
Sometimes the therapy is about learning to forgive yourself about an imperfect financial past, and realizing that you had some bad habits, but also learning how to put all that behind you. I use forms of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy that help you feel self-empowered on how to create a sound/secure future, and that goes a long way to helping you feel calm and confident.
For guys who are bit older (I would say middle-aged and on), having support for how you might design a will according to your values, or even what to support in philanthropy that makes you feel rewarded that you are helping others. Recently, I helped a gay couple in therapy to discuss the terms of their pre-nuptial agreement, long before they saw an attorney to write it up and make it legal. There were many strong feelings for both partners, and this planning took careful discussion of many points of conflict, but ultimately it was resolved. Therapy can also help you cultivate assertiveness skills, such as when you need to set limits and boundaries on financially supporting someone else.
What is the role of therapy in supporting you financially?
My role as a therapist that supports your healthy aging from a financial standpoint includes many tasks, such as giving you referrals to LGBT-friendly finance professionals, giving you examples on how other gay men and gay couples have managed their finances well (whether from my own experience, those of my friends, or those of my former clients (without disclosing any identifying information, for confidentiality reasons), applying Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy to help you discover and implement new financial habits, or coaching you on sustaining good habits you developed in the past.
I’ve seen clients need support for coping with the guilt when they have inherited sums of money from people who have passed away. Others need support for identifying or clarifying their values for planning how they want to “leave a legacy” for their community after they’re gone.
Healthy aging support can also involve coaching you on fulfilling items from your “Bucket List”, and planning the time, money, and other resources necessary for actually doing (not just “dreaming” about) these.
In this series of three articles, we’ve looked at how therapy for gay men can involve helping you age gracefully emotionally/physically, socially/culturally, and domestically/financially. I hope these have given you some framework on how you can approach the course of your life and aging not with a fear or dread, but with an empowered confidence that living good life, whatever your age, is not only possible, but it’s likely, if you pay attention to learning and implementing some good perspectives, thinking, behaviors, and habits that serve you well over time.
If for any of these articles in the series, you’d like more information, or help on how to apply these concepts/ideas to your own life, please contact me for a consultation. I would be happy to help you raise and sustain your quality of life, for a very long time to come.