Seniors in the midst of a crisis or feeling isolated often believe they have nowhere to turn. But help can often just be a phone call away.
“Our goal is to basically listen to people who are going through one of life’s traumas. One of the big ones is grief, loss of a spouse, loss of a child,” said Lois Dutton, peer counsellor co-ordinator with the Volunteer Senior Peer Counselling Program.
The free peer counselling program is part of Seniors Serving Seniors, offering trained counsellors who can provide emotional support and encouragement to seniors facing loss of a loved one or making a major transition in their lives.
“Often these are people who have no family or whose family is far away, and they need someone to listen carefully, without judgment and without assumptions, and then work through possibly what their options might be in order to progress,” said Dutton.
As well as helping seniors cope with the loss of a spouse or family member, Dutton said the two dozen volunteer councillors can also provide support for those making the transition into a care home, dealing with isolation or coping with a change in financial circumstances.
“Ill health and lack of mobility is sometimes an issue too, as well as loneliness and isolation. There’s no cure-all, there’s no one solution fits all,” said Dutton, adding both male and female counsellors are available.
“The counsellors are all very sensitive, caring individuals. They wouldn’t be doing this if they weren’t. Their goal is to just make things better if they can.”
She said the counsellors generally focus on one or two clients, seeing them anywhere from once a week to once a month, with some clients only needing a few sessions while others have come back for years.
“We help them work through it in many cases, but sometimes there’s no solution,” said Dutton “If you’ve lost a spouse, we can’t fix it. Our goal isn’t to fix it, sometimes it’s just helping them working towards acceptance. And if there are options, we help them find those options without giving advice. Many times they can go on and follow up on some of those options.”
Those coping with loss are encouraged to contact the peer counselling program at 250-382-4331 or visit the website seniorsservingseniors.bc.ca.
Dutton said a counsellor can usually be lined up within a few days, and a meeting can be set up in a client’s home or another spot at the client’s discretion.
“People are welcome to call us no matter what their issue is. And if we can’t help, we can often refer to someone who can,” said Dutton.
She said the situations seniors are dealing with aren’t that different from what others go through.
“Everyone has losses of some kind or another. But younger people often have friends and family they can lean on. With older people, their family is often either gone or far away, or sadly, estranged.”
The program is also looking for volunteer counsellors, with a training course offered every year in September. Dutton has worked as a counsellor for three years and said the role is a very rewarding one.
“It’s really gratifying a year or two later to see how people have progressed from the very unhappy, depressed, anxious, worried person that they were, to functioning again.”