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Barriers to treatment for older adults seeking psychological therapy

  • Viviana M. Wuthrich (a1) and Jacqueline Frei (a1)


Background: Older adults with mental health disorders underutilize mental health services more than other adults. While there are well known general barriers to help seeking across the population, specific barriers for older adults include difficulties with transportation, beliefs that it is normal to be anxious and depressed in old age, and beliefs by referrers that psychological therapy is less likely to be effective. This study examined barriers related to identifying the need for help, seeking help and participating in therapy in a clinical population of older adults.

Method: Sixty older adults (aged 60–79 years) with comorbid anxiety and unipolar mood disorders completed barriers to treatment questionnaires before and after psychological group treatment, as well as measures of cognitive ability, anxiety, depression, and quality of life at baseline.

Results: The greatest barriers to help seeking related to difficulties identifying the need for help, with 50% of the sample reporting their belief that their symptoms were normal as a major barrier. Other major barriers identified were related to: self-reliance, cost of treatment, and fear of medication replicating previous findings. The main barriers reported for difficulties in continuing therapy included not finding therapy helpful, cost of treatment, and thinking that the therapist did not understand their issues.

Conclusions: The main barriers identified related to issues with identifying the need to seek help. More attention is needed to educate older adults and professionals about the need for, and effectiveness of, psychological therapies for older adults with anxiety and depression to reduce this barrier to help seeking.


Corresponding author

Correspondence should be addressed to: Viviana Wuthrich, Centre for Emotional Health, Department of Psychology, Macquarie University, Sydney 2109, Australia. Phone: +61-2-9850-4866; Fax: +61-2-9850-8062. Email:


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International Psychogeriatrics
  • ISSN: 1041-6102
  • EISSN: 1741-203X
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