This is The #1 Thing Baby Boomers Bring Up in Therapy

March 19, 2024
6 mins read
This is The #1 Thing Baby Boomers Bring Up in Therapy

While therapy used to be something that one might keep under wraps, nowadays, therapy is becoming more and more a part of Americans’ daily lives. In fact, according to a 2021 survey, nearly 30% of U.S. adults saw a therapist during the pandemic. And it’s become increasingly common to see individuals on social media openly share that they’ve sought therapy.

Even “Boomers,” the generation of people born between 1948 and 1964, are starting to book therapy sessions. While Gen Z is still the top population to seek out therapy (according to 2023 data, 18% sought mental health treatment in the past year), as the same data reports, a notable 8% of Boomers had participated in mental health treatment.

The reason why that number is as high as it is? You guessed it—the normalization of therapy has been starting to reach older generations as well.

“Historically, the stigma around mental health, and even talking about feelings, has been a huge barrier for Boomers, many of whom were taught to sweep their feelings under the rug or grew up in an era where corporal punishment was a normal disciplinary technique,” says Laura Sgro, LCSW, a licensed therapist based in Los Angeles. “Psychology literature was in its infancy and not commonly discussed during their childhoods.”

But now that therapy is more out in the open, many Boomers are bravely choosing to start therapy. In what ways can therapy be helpful to those approaching their golden years, and what is the top thing that Boomers tend to bring up in sessions?

Why Is Therapy Helpful Later in Life?

While it makes sense that younger people see a therapist since their whole lives are still in front of them and there’s time to remedy any unhealthy patterns, why would an older individual who is ensconced in their habits and traits see a therapist?

“Oftentimes, we have developed patterns that began as a child, or even as an adult, that do not serve us, but they are embedded in our subconscious,” says Laura Rhodes-Levin, MS, LMFT, founder at The Missing Peace Center for Anxiety. “Those can be recognized and changed to help you experience and enjoy your life as you never have.”

Juliet Kuehnle, licensed mental health therapist, says that there is never a wrong time for therapy.

“Therapy can be useful to us at any stage of life,” she says. “It’s helpful when we’re in crisis or just when we’re curious and everything in between. Specifically for someone later in life, a strong therapeutic relationship can be the place where someone can truly reflect, process and integrate years past and intentionally collaborate on what one wants things to look like moving forward.”

And Sgro points out that since conversations around mental health are relatively recent, Boomers might not have good coping resources to navigate difficult situations, especially those involving aging.

“Boomers might be struggling to adapt to things like retirement, health issues or losing their support systems,” she adds. “Therapy can provide a container for Boomers to express and process their feelings and healthily adjust to these challenges.”

Related: 82% of People Now Believe Mental Health Is Just As Important As Physical Health, so Here’s How to Find the Right Therapist For You

The One Thing Baby Boomers Always Bring Up in Therapy

So, according to the therapists we spoke to, what is the leading topic that Boomers want to discuss in therapy?

It’s life transitions. Boomers may believe that they experienced the majority of their life transitions during their 20s and 30s, but as it turns out, later in life, many transitions come up as well.

Kuehnle says, “The most common presenting concern I’ve experienced in my work with Boomers fits into what therapists call ‘life transitions.’ This blanket term is what therapists use to describe a change in life—a new season—that yields a shift in identity and other necessary adaptations. This typically comes with elements of grief that can result from any loss or transition, a sense of loss of control, a recalibration of values and new hobbies and primarily a shift in identity.”

Additionally, Kuehnle notes that many Boomers felt strongly tied to their jobs as a defining characteristic of their identities.

“As they retire, this label changes and may leave one feeling untethered or disoriented,” she says. “Who am I without that part of my identity? How do I spend my time? What now? Was it all worth it? The existential angst that can result from a significant life transition can be quite overwhelming.”

Related: When Is It Time to See a Therapist About Your Anxiety?

What Else Do Baby Boomers Bring Up in Therapy?


Kuehnle says that many Boomers have prioritized and highly valued work and making money. “They also may have kids and the next generations to consider,” she explains. “There are decisions to be made about what to do with one’s money.”

Feeling lonely

Sgro says that in her experience as a therapist, clients in the Boomer age group most often struggle with feeling lonely or isolated.

“At this age, many of them have lost partners, friends or other social supports. Their children are off building their own lives, and mobility issues may impede their ability to participate in their communities,” she explains. “These are all typically protective factors that build resilience, so the loss of these resources can be extremely difficult.”

A desire to improve relationships

“Boomers often find themselves in therapy at the request of someone they love to work on things like communication or for help navigating complicated family dynamics,” Sgro says. “The good news is that these Boomers want to improve their relationships with their loved ones, often their adult children. The challenge is that there is such a difference in their cultural norms, especially around mental health. This is a unique struggle for many Boomers because they are often learning how to practice vulnerability or express themselves for the first time while simultaneously trying to repair ruptures within their relationships.”

Social attitudes

“Many Boomers led charges through social change and were at least highly aware of activism and social change,” Kuehnle says. “This comes up frequently with Boomers today amidst our politically charged world with access to 24/7 news.”

Related: Here’s Everything You Need to Know About Online Therapy

Depressive symptoms

“Boomers commonly seek therapy to assist with depressive symptoms—but they often don’t realize that it’s depression,” Sgro says. “They might initially come to therapy because they have no one else to talk to, or they feel purposeless in their lives, or they’re struggling with self-worth. But the common thread is that they often feel hopeless, and it’s important to take this seriously.”

As Sgro points out, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates among adults 55 or older has increased, and older adults are one of the most at-risk groups for suicidal behavior due to the unique aging-related challenges they face.

Marital problems

“In this stage of life, intimate relationships often look very different than they did in earlier life stages,” Sgro says. “Perhaps one partner has to take on a caregiver role toward the other due to health issues. Perhaps spouses are arguing more because of their own difficulty coping with aging-related challenges. Perhaps spouses are struggling to rekindle passion or find novel experiences to share. Relationships can change drastically over time, and many Boomers have difficulty accepting and adapting to those changes.”


“With aging, we can experience health challenges or at least an awareness of increased risk of developing certain health challenges,” Kuehnle says. “This can be top of mind for Boomers who are either battling these health challenges or working to prevent potential health outcomes.”

Dealing with difficult childhoods

Rhodes-Levin says that Boomers may find themselves taking care of aging parents who didn’t take the best care of them, and these are feelings they might deal with in therapy.

“When we were undervalued in childhood, we take on warped perceptions of our own value and view meeting our needs as selfish,” Rhodes-Levin says.

No matter what age you are or what issues you’re tackling, going to therapy will always be a healthy and brave choice, and something that could potentially impact your life in a big, positive way.

Next up, discover the one thing Gen Z brings up the most in therapy.


Laura Sgro, LCSW, licensed therapist based in Los Angeles. Laura Rhodes-Levin, MS, LMFT, Founder at The Missing Peace Center for Anxiety.Juliet Kuehnle, licensed mental health therapist.ValuePenguin by Lending Tree: “Nearly 30% of Adults Have Seen a Therapist During the Pandemic, While Others Turn to Social Media and Mobile Apps for Help” YouGov: “US: Gen-Z more likely to seek mental health treatment than baby boomers” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): “Suicide Among Adults Age 55 and Older, 2021”

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