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Individual Peer Counseling at Senior Center

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By Roonhee Ko

The Culver City Senior Center provides counseling services for seniors and collaborates with non-profit social services organizations. One of the free social services, called Individual Peer Counseling, began in August. It is available at the center after by making an appointment with a counselor via a phone call. Peer counselors from an organization called WISE & Healthy Aging welcomes seniors who have reached crossroads in their lives and need someone to help them choose a path, according to Sheila Segal, who is the head of the Peer Counseling Program.

WISE & Healthy Aging decided to work with the Culver City Senior Center because of its convenient location to seniors.

"It is easer for them to get to Culver City, sometimes, than to come up to our headquarters in Santa Monica," said Segal. A bus ride that costs 50 cents is provided for seniors who want to enroll in the program for counseling.

The senior center decided to include counseling in one of their programs because volunteers thought many people needed help. Seniors rarely ask because of the troublesome process to request counseling from organizations.

"Senior center is like a one-stop kind of center. Especially when
you are a senior, you don't want to take another trip to see a counselor," said Nora Geronimo, a volunteer at the center.

Most of the seniors want counseling because they need an emotional support, according to Katie Carrigan, who is a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern.

"A lot of seniors are dealing with grief from the loss of a partner and many of their friends as well. At that stage in their life, there are so many losses, so many transitions, a lot of challenges and a lot of isolations," said Carrigan.

Doris Johnson, who is a member of the senior center, is thankful for the counselors who she met when she needed emotional help.

"When I lost my husband, I was just too overwhelmed and brokenhearted. I was totally devastated. A Team support from counselors was very, very helpful," said Johnson.

Health-related problems are other issues that many seniors address. Many abilities that have diminished for seniors are not only related to cognitive impairment but from also physical difficulties, according to Segal.

"Their bodies just wear out. It becomes harder for them to do things that they may have loved to do," said Segal.

Peer counselors are also seniors who are trained as counselors and supervised by license therapists. Segal said that peers are in the best positions to help others because "they have been there."

Peer counseling is also helpful for people who need legal counseling. Lawyers visit the senior center twice a week and work with seniors who have wills or trusts that the seniors need to take care of.

"You can ask them basically about everything. Even if you have an issue with a landlord, you can come in to the center and get counseling," said Geronimo.

Alyce Wu, who has been attending the center for more than 10 years, received counseling from an attorney when she lost her son.

"It was like the end of my world. At the time, I didn't know anything about taking care of a lot of matters. Then, this gentleman from counseling explained to me many things I need to take care of, which was a great help," said Wu.

The counselors encourage seniors to come in to the senior center at Culver City, since it is a safe place to talk about subjects they may not be able to discuss with their family members. Also, they believe counseling is a great opportunity to help the seniors realize that they are not alone.

"I think it is really important to them to let them know that there are resources out there for them. I think that sometimes by knowing that someone wants to take the time to hear your story and listen to what's going on in your life can be very healing for people," said Carrigan.

More information about the Individual Counseling Program can be found by calling 310-394-9871.