SCES EMHOT Client: Peer Counseling has ‘been a lifeline’

Certified Older Adult Peer Specialist Marina Colonas

Beryl Hoffstein was looking to reduce clutter when she joined a support group five years ago, but she found a lot more than that.

The group was moderated by Certified Older Adult Peer Specialist Marina Colonas, and their shared experiences soon led to a mutually beneficial connection.

“She had a lot of very interesting things to say,” said Hoffstein. “We had a lot of the same issues that we were dealing with…and later on, when I found out she could be a peer counselor for me, I thought that was terrific.”

Colonas provides peer counseling through the Elder Mental Health Outreach Team (EMHOT) at Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES). She said the one-on-one approach is central to how it works.

“Sometimes my role is just listening. Other times it was interactive,” said Colonas. “It could be a discussion that would go for a couple of weeks, depending upon the severity of it. There were things that both of us were strongly affected by, and it was very helpful to have somebody else to talk to with about it, who knew exactly what you were talking about.”

Hoffstein and Colonas recently shared their story on the GBH program “In It Together,” which features stories and information about COVID-19 in Massachusetts. The duo has stayed connected throughout the pandemic, and Hoffstein said that has been key.

“You do feel lonelier, more isolated,” said Hoffstein. “A lot of the groups and programs that we had in our senior housing building are no longer available, so she’s really been a lifeline.”

Established in 2018, the SCES Elder Mental Health Outreach Team is one of seven in the state. It provides outreach, short term counseling case management, crisis intervention and referral for older adults facing mental health or behavioral health challenges.

The SCES EMHOT has remained operational throughout the pandemic, and a recent client survey indicates it has been very effective.  Of the respondents, 94% said they received the help they were looking for, and felt the program helped them deal better with daily challenges and crises.

The program is available in 81 of the 351 communities in Massachusetts, and advocates are pushing for further expansion of the program, noting that it removes common barriers to older adults receiving assistance. Hoffstein is among those who would like to see it expanded.

“They need to have more of this available in other communities in Massachusetts, and probably across the country,” said she.

Click here to hear the entire radio interview.