Experience and Age

Age does not connote experience, expertise or efficacy. Wisdom may come with age, age allows for opportunities for growth or training, but to assume advanced years implies skill is fallacy.

Bold statements, especially from someone who, on occasion has uttered “when I was your age…” as if to suggest I know what it is like to be them.

We look to young teachers to guide children, we expect young adults to represent our country at the Olympics, be rank and file in our military, our labor force and our entertainment. Why the double standard in healthcare?

Study after study indicates that relatability is the most important factor in counseling. Simply, the client who feels that they have a good relationship with their therapist will see positive benefits sooner and to more effect than clients who have mediocre feelings towards their caregiver.

More important than how many degrees the therapist earned, their specific specialties, their age, gender, sexuality, race … all are trumped by the positive therapeutic relationship.

Hmm, if this is so, what about hitting a certain age in a client’s mind is the relevant key? What milestones occur at 30, 40, 70 that could confer expertise? I can’t think of any that earnest understanding, openness and genuine interest in the client’s life would supersede.

There are *’s of course. Knowledge of child rearing helps counsel a parent facing toddler tantrums, understanding the language, morals and customs from less recent generations is important in creating relatability. Familiarity with what dying looks like, what happens in a divorce, the changes in the human body as it ages – all are integral in developing relatability with certain clients … but still… age alone does not instill knowledge.

Whichever side of the room you’re sitting on – therapist’s chair or the couch – it is the relationship that is paramount. From a client’s perspective, instead of focusing on how recently the therapist graduated, isn’t it more important to assess their ability to ‘get’ you? How willing is the counselor to hear where you’re coming from, and – if they don’t understand some aspect of your life – tap resources? Ask questions?

And from a therapist’s perspective, if each client is unique, how relevant is it to you to have shared a decade or life event with your client that is only similar to theirs on the very surface?

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