September 2017

A silver lining in the golden years

Counsellors are giving a sense of fulfilment and new lease of life to a community of senior citizens in Mumbai

Ali participating in a counselling session with other senior citizens

Sixty-five-year-old Ali’s problems began with his retirement – being financially dependent on his sons was a huge blow to his self-esteem. His sons, married and with children, could barely meet the expenses of their own families. Ali’s wife is a home-maker, and their financial woes led Ali to an increasing feeling of negativity. As this negativity began to worsen, Ali was referred to counselling.

The Mental Health Centre and Centre for the Elderly are the twin chapters of the Family Welfare Agency (FWA) in Mumbai. Funded by the Tata Trusts, the FWA chapters are instrumental in forming support groups for the elderly and mentally disabled persons in the city.

When Ali’s case came up before the counsellors at FWA, they knew that it was important to gather all the information they could before they could guide him to make the necessary changes. Establishing a rapport was a slow process, but the counsellors persevered – over the course of several sessions, Ali began to feel more at ease, and began to talk to the counsellors about his problems.

Once they had all the information, the first objective of the counselling sessions was to work on improving Ali’s self-esteem. The counsellors asked Ali to list his good qualities, both personal and professional. Over the next few sessions, the counsellors enquired about his previous experiences at work. Once Ali began to open up, the counsellors reinforced his positivity through appreciation. They also reminded Ali to continue to focus on his good qualities.

The next step was to give Ali a purpose which would allow him to emerge out of the negative frame of mind. Guided by the counsellors, Ali began to explore job opportunities that would allow him some measure of financial independence and self-worth. The counsellors focussed the discussions on jobs that Ali might enjoy; various job profiles were listed. An objective assessment followed, and a few possible service areas were drawn up. Initially, Ali wasn’t too happy with the emphasis on security jobs – he preferred clerical work.

The counsellors were not willing to give up the progress they had made – they considered his qualifications for clerical work, and investigated his aptitude for the same. The biggest challenge was in finding a vacancy. Secondly, if they had to recommend him for a clerical post, it was essential that he manage the job with accuracy and efficiency. However, the counsellors agreed that his job requirement should be shared amongst friends and relatives. Ali was motivated to visit the employment centre regularly, and to interact with their senior citizen members who would also help him in his job search.

While all this was going on, the counsellors were also working with Ali to improve his interaction with his family members. They guided him to deal rationally with them; if he needed financial help, he was encouraged to discuss this with his children so they could help him. He was also encouraged not to think negatively about his sons – if they were unable to help him, it did not mean that they did not care for him. Their own family responsibilities might make it difficult to help him financially.

It was a slow process, but gradually, Ali’s attitude began to improve; he even began to speak to other senior citizens at the employment centre. He also began to take the initiative to share his problems with his counsellors, and to work towards finding simple solutions. Ali soon became a regular participant in the activities at the centre. Within a span of a few months, he had secured a job as a watchman, which pays him a salary of Rs8,000.

Now, Ali is a changed man. His counselling sessions have reduced. “Not being dependent on my sons for our daily needs has also made me feel more positive about myself,” says a grateful Ali. His general attitude has also undergone a sea change, and contributed to his overall sense of well-being. The various processes put in place by Tata Trusts have ensured that Ali has rediscovered his sense of self-worth.