Murray is a fictional character who might resemble an elderly neighbor, parent or relative you know. His story is not uncommon from many unwritten stories unfolding behind locked doors throughout the Los Angles area. For individuals like Murray, who are suffering from loss, and for those like Barbara, who care for them, The Maple Counseling Center (TMCC) in Beverly Hills provides a service that hopes to unlock the hearts of these pained individuals.
"The Senior Peer Program aims to diminish the stigma and sense of shame associated with seeking mental health services later in life, through the use of senior peer counselors," said Carol Katz, coordinator of the program. "Someone their own age is available to these individuals on an emotional level, and helps the individual feel less lonely in their experience of loss. Those who felt alienated in their experiences of loss and nearing the end of life are able to feel more understood and self-accepting after talking with senior peer counselors."
The Senior Peer Program was created in response to a request by the Beverly Hills City Council to aid its substantial population of seniors; the program is available to all seniors residing in the Los Angeles area. Each counselor is required to be 55 years old and up, and the clients are a minimum of 62 years of age. In addition to one-on-one peer counseling sessions, bereavement groups are available throughout the year, as are senior adult support groups. The program also provides counseling for homebound seniors in Beverly Hills.
"We were approached by the City Council to provide a low-fee counseling program for the senior community," said Astrid Schwartz, an MFCC with the center. "In the beginning, we were supported by both city and federal funding. Today, the only funding is given by the city, and TMCC absorbs the difference of the cost."
A sliding-scale fee, starting at $10, is charged for each individual counseling session. The fee is based on each person's ability to pay.
Those seeking to set the highly confidential and personal counseling process in motion should begin with a phone call to TMCC, at (310) 271-9999. Before counseling can begin, an intake session is required to establish the preferences of the individual seeking assistance as well as collect information about patient history for the counselor. Individuals may request male or female counselors and may also request counselors of similar faith and background. The counseling sessions begin once this information has been processed and a fee has been established. This entire process takes about seven to 10 days.
Schwartz, who is also the supervisor of the Senior Peer Counselors, has witnessed the transformation of some of those in need over the past 13 years.
"In dealing with loss, the individual is thrown back to unresolved losses. The issues of aging, death, grieving and loneliness come out. Seniors need to know that they don't have to go through this process alone," said Schwartz.
"It is never too late to change," said Katz. "We all have things to work through, and we all struggle to embrace the end of life. The process of being heard by someone who cares and someone who can empathize has a tremendous value to the individual, no matter what their age."
The Maple Counseling Center is located at 9107 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills. Carol Katz is in charge of coordinating intake appointments for Senior Peer Counseling and can be reached at (310) 271-9999.