• Living Well and Dying Well: tales of counselling older people

Living Well and Dying Well: tales of counselling older people

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ISBN 9781910919415
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Older people rarely feature in counselling literature, and the very old barely at all. Helen Kewell seeks to address this often overlooked topic with a vibrant collection of resonant case studies describing her encounters with some of the old and very old clients with whom she has worked as a counsellor. Woven into these accounts are her personal reflections on how working with these clients has changed her and contributed to her own growth as a counsellor and as a human being. She also describes the theoretical and philosophical works that have influenced her practice – looking to humanistic, existentialist and person-centred approaches to guide her in this largely uncharted territory.

Among the people described in this book, we meet Maggie, for whom death is very close and whose day-to-day experiencing is insular, private and diminished to one room and a few hours of wakefulness. We meet Kate, for whom reawakened feelings from long ago and the challenge to strongly held beliefs prove too much to face. We meet Bobby, who valiantly engages in reassessing and reconstructing his life narrative and through this finds some release, and Susan, who finds herself facing life transitions much earlier than expected and learns to transcend her circumstances and find a new way of living. And last, we meet Tom who, despite the loss of all he holds dear, manages also to transcend his circumstances and face death on his own terms.

Helen’s aim in this book is to use story-telling about real people living real lives to inspire others to consider this work as possible, necessary and meaningful.

Foreword by Emmy van Deurzen


1. How to say goodbye – Maggie

2. Rewriting narratives – Bobby

3. Keeping up appearances – Joan

4. Her indoors – Kate

5. The dolls’ house – Alice

6. So long and thanks for the fish – Cliff

7. Finding Frankl – Susan

8. Waiting for the Southsea bus – Tom


‘Helen’s approach to counselling older adults is humanising, compassionate, and relationally deep. This unique text brings to life the reality and the potential of working with this client group. An invaluable read for counsellors and psychotherapists working in this field.’
Mick Cooper, Professor of Counselling Psychology, University of Roehampton
‘Living Well and Dying Well is exquisitely written in its depiction of therapeutic encounters with older adults. Kewell’s searingly insightful and fearlessly honest reflections are at once challenging and inspiring. The reader not only learns of the interplay between theory and practice but is invited into the relatively unchartered territory of psychotherapy with the profoundly old. Rich with personal story, Living Well and Dying Well salutes old age and explores how we can engage therapeutically with curiosity and true dignity. This is a profound, transformative and pioneering piece in the emerging field of work with older adults. I imagine that, with an ageing population, the wisdom and beauty held within these pages will only grow in relevance over time for counsellors and para-professionals alike.’
Felicity Chapman, clinical social worker and author of Counselling and Psychotherapy with Older People in Care: a support guide

‘This a timely and important book that takes a fresh approach to a relatively neglected area of counselling and psychotherapy. Writing in the first person, Helen Kewell provides us with a personal and moving account of work with a number of clients facing the challenges of later life. The title refers to ‘Tales of Counselling with Older People’. However, this book is far from anecdotal. The encounters with clients provide the basis for moving inductively to theory and principles, informed by a strong underpinning literature. While the tone is warm and engaging, there is nothing anodyne here. We are challenged to reflect on the social construction of ageing and how the assumptions that can follow from this impinge upon our practice.’
Dr David Bott, Principal Lecturer in Psychotherapy, University of Brighton
‘I loved all these stories, but it was when I came to the one about Kate that I realised I really trusted the author. Few writers would have discussed problems that they could not solve. How often do we write about the painful process of learning to be an effective therapist? This book will help many people become more effective helpers of older and grieving clients.’
Anne Wyatt-Brown, Emeritus Professor in Linguistics, University of Florida, and former co-editor of the Journal of Aging, Humanities and the Arts

Helen Kewell

Helen Kewell qualified as a humanistic counsellor in 2015, having spent most of her career as a management consultant. Her new career path was as necessary as it was dramatic, having experienced loss and chronic illness during the preceding years. During her training, Helen became profoundly influenced by existential and experiential approaches to therapy and, almost inadvertently, became fascinated and inspired by working with older adults. She considers this area of psychotherapeutic work to be underrepresented in literature and under-resourced and hopes to continue to promote a wider dialogue on it and prompt others to do the same. She runs her own private counselling practice in Sussex and continues to volunteer as a counsellor and supervisor for Cruse Bereavement Care.

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Helen Kewell