Kim Scott, LMFT



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January-February 2024

Member Columnist — Kim Scott, LMFT

Unlocking Fulfillment: Therapist Tips For Discovering Purpose
in Your Post-Retirement Journey

As we transition into adulthood, societal expectations often align with a predefined template: pursuing education, entering marriage, launching a successful career, and eventually, embracing parenthood. This template is so common that songs are written about it. But what happens after the kids are grown and the career is beginning to wind down? What dreams or goals or purpose are left? Society may portray retirement as a phase of life filled with endless leisure. However, does an extended period of leisure truly contribute meaning and purpose to one’s day for the next 10, 20, or even possibly 30 years? Unfortunately, when our older clients lack a sense of purpose it can lead to feelings of depression, boredom, loneliness, and isolation.

I often hear people who are 60+ perplexed, frightened, and unsure about what the next chapter of their lives will look like. What will add meaning to their day? Will they still be significant or matter to anyone? Will they continue to have something to contribute to the community? They wonder what their purpose will be post career and post parenting? These are the big questions we need to be prepared to help our senior clients grapple with and answer.

The ancient philosophers believed that happiness came from more than just leisure and play. Socrates believed that self-knowledge was the key to happiness. In the book, “Women Rowing North,” Mary Pfeiffer says, “We need to understand ourselves and where we are at right now before determining where we are going.” So, the first step is to help our clients look back over their lives to identify the themes, the joys, the pains, the positive memories, and the learning lessons. This is commonly referred to as Life Review Therapy and a Life Script Questionnaire can be a useful tool to aid in this process. This process can help our clients reflect on the past and use it as a compass to determine where they want and need to go in their next chapter.

Plato said that happiness was created through a meaningful life. But again, this begs the question…what makes a meaningful life? The work of therapy will be to help our clients identify and define what would make a meaningful life for them. Therapies that can be used to aid clients in this process include logotherapy, meaning therapy, existential therapy, and a combination of approaches.

One definition that I like describes purpose as a “guiding light or set of principles and values that give meaning and direction to the individual.” This naturally implies that each person’s purpose can and will be different. What is meaningful for each of us may change as we undergo personal growth and enter new life cycles. Our purpose may also change as we see new needs in our family, community, or the world around us.

A question you might ask to begin addressing this, could be: What are your 3 top values or priorities? Sometimes it is helpful to have our client’s look at a Core Value list to begin this process.

For example, in my younger years I was an all-in mom. When my daughters grew up and left for college, I remember thinking, “I am not ready to retire from my mom job…I love it!” But, that phase of parenting was over. Luckily, my daughters retained me as a “consultant, and we have become great friends. In this way, I continue to prioritize my value of family and family continues to be a significant part of my purpose. However, I act on it in a different way than when my daughters were children.

For some people their values change over time. A person’s values at 30 can be very different from his or her values at 70. This can also be useful to explore with our clients. What do they value most now? And how is this different from their values at other times in their lives?

Another exercise to help our clients identify what matters most to them is to ask them to reflect upon their day before getting into bed. What did they enjoy most? What did they learn? What are they grateful for today? What were they proud of? And what would they like to do more of tomorrow? Noticing what they are drawn to rather than what they think we should value can give some good information about their purpose. Or a simple question like, “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” can begin the conversation around purpose.

It is also useful to help our clients explore how they can put their values into action because purpose is created by acting on one’s values. For example, if work is one of your client’s core values how can they put this value into action in retirement? It might be through volunteering, mentoring or working around the house.

Friedrich Nietzsche, says “He who has a ‘why’ to live can bear almost any how.” Having a purpose in life can provide the resilience to face life’s challenges, which can be abundant in one’s senior years (heck, challenges can be abundant at all phases of life). If we can help our clients remember why they want to keep living, it can make the difficulties feel smaller. It can give purpose to the challenges.

When my uncle was in his 70’s he was diagnosed with cancer. He said that during the difficult phases of his treatment, feeding and caring for his animals was the only thing that got him out of bed in the morning. So, whether your client’s ‘why’ is taking care of his animals, teaching literacy at the local library, traveling, or sharing what she has learned over a lifetime and then dying with dignity - any of these ‘whys’ can provide a guiding light and a purpose for their next chapter.

As we enter the new year, which is often a time of resolutions and reflections, it can be beneficial to take some time to help your older clients look inward to discover where they have been, where they are at now, and where they want to go in the next chapter of their lives. Here’s to making the new year the best one yet!

Kim Scott, LMFT (MFT21184) is a licensed marriage, family and child therapist who practices in Granada Hills. She has a blog, Therapeutic Musings, at Ms. Scott can be reached at 818.309.7780 or Her office is located at 17402 Chatsworth Street, Suite 104, Granada Hills, CA 91344.

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San Fernando Valley Chapter – California Marriage and Family Therapists