You Can't Teach An Old Dog New Tricks... Says Who?

It is sad but true that we often carry around burdens from the past way into our 40's, 50's and even 60's that have never been addressed or healed. Guilt. Shame. Old angers and resentment.
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I have watched a lot of people try to change.

Try to lose weight. Gain weight. Stop lying. Be more affectionate. Stop yelling at their kids. Learn to not be as critical of others. Learn to not be so critical of themselves.

Accept what they cannot change. Focus on what they can.

The general wisdom is that we older folks are set in our ways. We can't learn "new tricks."


Not my experience. It is sad but true that we often carry around burdens from the past way into our 40's, 50's and even 60's that have never been addressed or healed. Abuse or other trauma. Feeling guilt. Shame. Old angers and resentment.

Letting those go and actually moving into a more productive life? I have found that older people can be just as motivated to do that as their younger counterparts.

What does research say? I recently read an article from the New York Times that validated my clinical experience. The author states, "seniors generally have a higher satisfaction rate in therapy than younger people because they are usually more serious about it. Time is critical, and their goals usually are well-defined".

Time has more meaning.

Let me give you an example. I had a male patient several years ago who had held himself responsible for a sibling's death. He was 9 when it happened. His mother blamed him for absolutely no rational reason. There had also been sexual abuse in his past by a close relative. Those facts and other trauma that I can't reveal caused him to feel like he really wasn't a good person at his core. The fact of the matter is he was a tremendous guy. He had been very giving to his community. But even though he was a father and husband, he was withdrawn and a bit aloof from those who loved him the most.

He came into therapy with his wife a handful of times. They got better. A few weeks later, my phone rang. It was him. He started coming by himself. Slowly but surely, the facts above came to light. I began to see the man that could have been. That really was. He forgave himself. He got a better understanding of the abuse. The other trauma, we discussed.

He stepped into the light that was his life.

Spending more time with grandchildren. Volunteering with youth at his church. Work in his neighborhood association. Asking his wife to go on dates.

He was 68.

He told me that for the first time in his life, he was enjoying each and every day.

Change is possible at any age.

If the motivation and courage are there.

You just have to find them.

Originally posted on You can find Dr. Margaret on her website at Thanks for reading!

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