Counseling Baby Boomers

by James Rudy Gray

I was born in 1953. That puts me in the middle of the "Baby Boom" generation.  This group of people born between 1946 and 1964 has been called the expectant generation. In fact, the baby boomers are the most-labeled generation in American history. Today, they control over 50 percent of consumer spending and have an economic power that exceeds the gross national product of most countries in the world!  Understanding the people in this generation can be insightful when we are called to be involved in counseling situations with them.

Baby boomers generally see themselves as special or entitled. They have more education than any generation before them. They believe they are a generation of destiny-although most of them have not discovered what their mission is. They are practical and into self-help techniques. It was in this generation that the breakdown of the family became so severe: Fifty-two percent of boomers are divorced by age 34; 70 percent of boomer mothers work outside the home; and 10 percent of boomer women remain single. Almost 70 percent of this generation is in debt and less than one-third save any money. Still, as a whole, this generation believes they will be given something. And in fact, the boomer generation will inherit more money than any generation before them.

Three common threads that are woven into this generation's experience can be reflected in three questions:

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Where were you when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated?

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>Do you remember when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show?

<![if !supportLists]>         <![endif]>What does the word Vietnam mean to you?

This generation is possibly the most age-segregated society in the United Sates today.  At every stage of their development, boomers have changed society. Today, many churches have changed or new churches with nontraditional services have been started, chiefly through the influence of baby boomers.

With this generation of 76 million, people have some distinguishing traits:  the psychology of entitlement, a self-centered view of life, demand for immediate gratification, and tolerance (which is often actualized as a lack of biblical values). This generation may be the generation that is becoming the most depressed generation in American history.  How can we help them?

The sense of entitlement, attitude of individualism, and self-absorbed lifestyle, makes this generation at risk for any number of spiritual and emotional difficulties. Depression seems to be developing as the diagnosis of choice for this generation. Some triggers of depression for this group include:

<![if !supportLists]>1.       <![endif]>A depressive environment (many have been attacked in various ways by people they know and love).

<![if !supportLists]>2.       <![endif]>Perfectionism (many boomers were raised with either the deliberate or unintentional idea that they need to be perfect.

<![if !supportLists]>3.       <![endif]>Loss (boomers have counted up significant losses in their journey: death or divorce of parents, their own divorce, loss of job, thwarted goals, etc.).

<![if !supportLists]>4.       <![endif]>Anger turned inward (this is one of the most typical causes of depression).  Boomers who have wanted and expected much have discovered or are discovering that they are unable to attain it. Since anger is a secondary emotion often arising out of the primary emotion of frustration, boomers must be helped to see what is causing their anger and how they have allowed the frustration of failed expectations to develop into depression.

Boomers expect authenticity, especially from spiritual leaders. It will likely take some time to develop trust with a boomer client. However, boomers have changed. Many others can change. As a generation, they are ultra-sensitive to rejection and historically have exhibited a startling lack of commitment to the local church. They are the consummate consumers, informal and casual with their approach toward life, but care deeply about their children. They are the first generation to be raised with a strong fare of TV diet and as a result they often carry a distorted sense of reality. Culture has shaped this generation perhaps more than any other. Romans 12:2 can be a liberating door of change for them. Much of what this generation has assumed must be properly and kindly challenged with the truth. Since Jesus promised His truth would set us free, a Bible-based foundation of new thinking can empower and enable boomers to discover what so many have missed. 

When you counsel with a baby boomer, remember that relevance is a large concern with him or her. Christian counselors certainly have a great opportunity. Nothing in any generation is more genuinely relevant than learning how to follow Jesus Christ sincerely.

James Rudy Gray is certified as a professional counselor by the National Board for Certified Counselors, and is a member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He pastors Utica Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C.

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