Psychotherapy Bulletin

Psychotherapy Bulletin

Clinical Impact Statement: This article will be helpful for anyone planning to retire from professional practice.The article also makes recommendations about how to address these issues.

By last count I had retired three times—once from the state of Colorado as the mental health director, once from the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland, and finally from the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver. You might conclude that it was difficult for me to retire! Retirement is a significant life event. According to the Holmes-Rahe Stress Inventory, retirement is the 10th most stressful event you can experience. I am far from an expert on retirement. However, my experiences might provide some insight into some of the myths and misconceptions about retirement.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau; “the average retirement age in the United States comes to about age 63. …The U.S. Census Bureau data shows that people experience an average retirement length of approximately 18 years” (Anspach, 2018). However, the change in social security benefits may be encouraging later retirements (Brandon, 2018). Also, there is some evidence that University professors retire at a much later age (Hicken, 2013).

The media is flooded with advice about the financial aspects of retirement but there are other considerations about when and how to retire. These considerations are particularly relevant for professionals who have been very busy in their pre-retirement years. This article will focus on the professional and personal aspects of retirement.

So, you took the trip of a lifetime you didn’t have the time for before retirement, now what?!

Retirement Myths

Myth number one: It is easy to retire from an active professional life to a less active lifestyle. It is not easy. Like any transition, it requires some forethought and hard work. My financial advisor says that it is better to retire to something rather than away from something. So, it is important to have some activities that you want to do more in retirement. For me, it was to spend more time with my family and to be able to pick and choose what I wanted to do professionally. Like many people, I was doing many things that I liked in my professional life, but I was also doing some administrative things that I did not like. Retirement can offer you the opportunity to say “yes, I want to continue to teach, but I do not want to do the administrative work.” However, this transition was not easy. It took more work than I had imagined to make this transition. For example, I had less control with organizations after I retired. Before retirement, I could usually teach the courses that I wanted to teach. After retirement, it was much more complicated. Understandably, active professors have priority over retired professors.  

Myth number two: Retired people do not want to work. I was not planning to go from a pretty active professional life to no professional activity. Some of my retired colleagues are happy with no professional activity but most want some professional life after retirement. For most of us, working has become an essential part of our persona. The work ethic is pretty difficult to abandon and there are many ways to continue that work ethic in retirement. For me, it was important to feel that I could still have an impact on making the world a better place. So, I have pursued some consulting positions where I could continue to make a difference but in a less time consuming way. I had the fantasy that I would be called upon as a wise elder statesman. In some situations, this has actually happened. In others, I had to work pretty hard to convince colleagues that my work still had relevance.

Myth number three: Retired people do not want to be paid. I believe in volunteer work and I increased my volunteer time in retirement. I am now chair of the Mental Health Colorado Board of Directors and that is a considerable volunteer commitment. However, I was not willing to volunteer all of my services after retirement. Retiring was a big change for me but I could not abandon everything I had been doing for 50 years. So, I wanted to continue to do consulting and teaching. Some suggested that I should volunteer my consulting and teaching services since retired people do not need to be paid! This is a pretty common misconception. I am not rich, but I did plan for retirement. However, that does not mean that I do not need money. Also, it was important that my work still had a financial value.

Myth number four: Retired people have unlimited free time. My wife tells me that I am just as busy in retirement as I was before I retired. Other retirees have told me that they have experienced the same thing. They do not believe how they could have had time to work before they retired because they are so busy in retirement. However, this does not happen automatically. It takes some work to balance your personal life, hobbies, and the professional work that you want to continue. There were times in my retirement transition where I was working more than I had planned and more than I desired.

If you think about your time in the two broad categories of professional time and personal time, you can set a goal for your ideal mix of time. Personal time should include all those things that you wanted to do but never had the time to do. For example, reconnect with high school and college friends, take the trip of a lifetime, pursue the hobby that you never had time for, or volunteering for organizations outside your profession. It should also include things like spending more time with family and friends. Your professional time should include teaching, consulting, volunteering in professional groups, and private practice. Before retirement, I spent about 50% of my time in professional activities. My goal in retirement was to spend about 20% of my time in professional activities. My actual postretirement time is about 35% (partly because I did not want to turn down opportunities). So, I may need to adjust my ideal plan or my actual plan!

Pre-retirement: Professional time 50%, Leisure time 50% (I am excluding maintenance time—sleeping, household tasks, hygiene, etc.).

Planned post-retirement time: Leisure time 80%, Professional time 20%.

Actual post-retirement time: Leisure time 65%, Professional time 35%.

Suggestions for a Successful Retirement

  1. Retiring is a significant life event and it requires not only financial planning but also professional and personal planning. Set a goal for your ideal mix of personal and professional time.
  2. Don’t let stereotypes of retirement determine your retirement plans. If you really want no professional activity, go for it. However, if you want some professional activities, you need to work on making that happen in retirement.
  3. By all means, do those things that you always wanted to do but did not have time for. However, make sure that you have a long range plan also. As mentioned above, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average retirement length is 18 years. Your plan should be at least that long!

Thomas Barrett, Ph.D. 
Clinical Professor Emeritus, Graduate School of Professional Psychology, University of Denver. Dr. Tom Barrett was program evaluator and executive director for Bethesda Community Mental Health Center in Denver between 1974 and 1990. He was the Mental Health Director for the state of Colorado between 1994 and 2004. He was senior medical officer and senior mental health consultant for the mental health and substance abuse department for the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland between 2004 and 2007. Dr. Barrett currently serves as clinical professor emeritus at DU’s Graduate School of Professional Psychology (GSPP), an accredited program that has offered a Doctor of Psychology degree since 1976. Dr. Barrett teaches in both the Psy.D. program and in the International Disaster Psychology program. He also provides consultation services for the Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education, for the Denver Children’s Advocacy Center, and for the Colorado Health Institute.

Cite This Article

Barrett, T. (2018). Retirement myths. Psychotherapy Bulletin, 53(4), 29-31.


Anspach, D. (2018, July 24). How to use Monte Carlo simulations to stress test your retirement plan. The Balance. Retrieved from  

Brandon, E. (2018, July 12). 8 benefits of claiming social security later. US News. Retrieved from

Hicken, M. (2013, June 17). Professors teach into their golden years. CNN Money. Retrieved from

1 Comment

  1. Winfred Werts

    Wow, looks good, especially the end.


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