reprinted from Mid Atlantic Group Psychotherapy newsletter ; Volume 21, Issue 1

Editor’s Note: Venus S. Masselam, PhD, MS, CGP has been an active member of the MAGPS, including having served as our spring conference chair in 2006 and 2007. Starting in Spring 2013, Venus will be a Member-at-Large on the Board. During the past few years she has deepened her expertise and helped to create a certificate program in “Aging” at the Washington School of Psychiatry. We are grateful that she was willing to share some of the wisdom she has gained for the benefit of helping us all develop more awareness about aging.

A phenomenon is occurring in the general population of the United States—we are aging. We might consider asking ourselves what we need to be aware of. How can we remain relevant to a large portion of our client base? And, also how can we continue to be productive within our organization? According to the United States Census Bureau, the 20th century saw the life expectancy for our population increase from approximately 50 to 80 years. Now, in the 21st century, we are witnessing the impact of a silver tsunami of baby boomers who are experiencing longevity changes in droves. By 2050, the US Census Bureau predicts that individuals over the age of 65 will constitute more than 20 percent of the population, and their time in this age group will extend far past retirement to age 85 or beyond.

In an attempt to describe the developmental tasks individuals in the mid–20th century faced, Evelyn Duvall suggested a model with eight stages. The eighth and final stage she defined was simply ―Retirement and Death —pretty limiting for a stage of life that could last 25 or more years! Baby boomers‘ longevity, in this, the longest developmental life-stage will impact families, businesses, and the entire contextual fabric of our world, far beyond the tasks of ―retirement and ―death. We might consider how increased life expectancy can be far more complex and impact more than just that individual.

We should ask ourselves how we will support our clients, as well as each other, as we gain awareness about the challenges and rewards we may face within ourselves, or with a loved one who is in this later stage of life. For the last several years I have had the good fortune to help create a certificate program in ―Aging at the Washington School of Psychiatry. I learned it is not enough to understand one‘s developmental stage without having a greater perspective of the entire life span, and the inter-play between each stage. In my practice as a family therapist, I have incorporated the older adult stage as part of my understanding of human development, which is demanded of all of us in the mental health profession. I have learned that for many, it is a stage with an extended singular journey that need not be traveled alone.

Erikson did not recognize the importance of social interaction for the older adult. Numerous sources including ―The Longevity Project, by Friedman and Martin (2011), cite how the importance of establishing and maintaining an active social life to help aging. In fact, strong social relationships promote physical health and one‘s self concept, features that are indicative of successful aging and prevent one from experiencing loneliness and depression, which may result without these supports. We are in position to help our clients achieve mutuality and reciprocity within relationships, rather than distance, social isolation, and bitterness while navigating through this stage of life. We might ask ourselves how we can harness our own generativity in this effort, and how we can reach across all stages of the lifespan to vitalize the interests and talents of our diverse membership.

We can incorporate knowledge of aging within the programs MAGPS offers. We already have programs that we can use to strengthen our organization as we face this rapidly expanding life stage. We are also in a unique position to provide one another with tools to promote successful aging. For example, we provide scholarships and discounted membership fees to bring students and young professionals to our workshops. Additionally, our Cinema Series is an easy vehicle for individuals who wish to expand their knowledge or expertise, but are unable to devote an entire weekend to a conference. We have a wealth of talent representing all ages who want to be involved. We cannot be all things to everyone, but we are a group with an intergenerational and diverse membership that resembles the world we wish to enrich. We can improve our skills and revitalize our own organization by dealing with the challenges associated with this newly expanding task. Your active participation is important, your ideas are needed. Will you help?