Free One-Hour Body Wisdom Class at Seekers Church

Sunday, November 18, 2018
11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

Experiential class using a variety of exercises such as stretching, intestinal stimulation and deep breathing, all designed to improve circulation and abdominal health and increase overall vitality. Join Rebecca Wheaton, longtime Body and Brain yoga teacher and Brain Education trainer, for this special session that will help give you new, accessible and creative tools to improve the overall condition of your body. This class is geared towards those 50+ but is perfectly fine for anyone of any age. All are welcome.

Sponsored by the Seekers Church School for Christian Growth

Continue reading Free One-Hour Body Wisdom Class at Seekers Church

Why I started this website by Jacqie Wallen

I received my PhD from the Committee on Human Development at the University of Chicago.  This department started out as a child development department in the 1930’s when a number of grants established child development departments in leading U.S. universities.  In 1940, the name “Child Development” was replaced with “Human Development,” in recognition of the fact that development continues through life.  No matter how old we are, we are still developing and maturing.  So the University of Chicago became the first university to offer a PhD in Human Development.

In 1950, several scholars in the department received funding to start the Kansas City Study of Adult Life, a large-scale study of adults in Kansas City, Missouri. The study, which involved surveys of adults ages 40 to 70, was the first major study on aging conducted in a large metropolitan area and in many ways marked the beginning of research on gerontology in the behavioral sciences.  One especially interesting thing about this study is that the four researchers working on the project came up with three quite different theories about aging:

  • Elaine Cummings and William Henry developed a theory called “disengagement theory,” based on the findings from the study. They argued that as we age and our abilities decline, we gradually withdraw from social contact and begin to focus more on our inner life, becoming more introspective.  This is a normal development and should not be discouraged
  • Based the same data, Robert Havighurst developed “activity theory,” which held that the more older adults stay active and maintain their social interactions the healthier they are and the more satisfied they are with their lives.
  • Later, Bernice Neugarten, who was a student of Henry and Havighurst, came up with a third way of looking at the data. She called her theory “continuity theory.”  She concluded that people strive to maintain the activities and social relationships that mean the most to them as they age and that when they are able to do this, they have greater life satisfaction.

I don’t see these theories as mutually exclusive—I think each is true to a certain extent, and that people differ in what provides them with a high quality of life as they age.  Also, the theories apply differently depending on the individual’s age, health status, and other characteristic.  They are important theories – actually, they are key foundational theories in gerontology.  Every textbook mentions them.  And they established the department in which I received my PhD as a leader in the study of human development for older adults.  Three of the scholars I just mentioned were still at the University of Chicago when I studied there and I was able to take courses with all of them.

About 10 years after I got my PhD I received a Master’s in Social Work from Catholic University here in DC.  I had always wanted to be a psychotherapist, and in 1990 I was able to begin my own private practice of psychotherapy.  In that same year I accepted a faculty appointment to the Department of Family Science in the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland, where I am now a professor emerita though I still occasionally teach a course there.  One of the best things that happened to me in that Department is that, because of my background at the University of Chicago, I was asked to develop and teach a new course entitled “Adult Development and Aging in the Context of the Family.”  This proved to be a kind of turning point for me, both personally and professionally.

It affected me personally because it required me to familiarize myself with and stay current on psychological, sociological, anthropological, biological, and medical theory and research on later life.  It also required me to learn about and keep up with current developments in social policy and planning that affect the elderly in the U.S. and globally.  Doing this raised my consciousness about what I needed to be doing for myself to prepare myself for getting older.

Professionally it became a turning point as well because I became aware that I wanted to focus my psychotherapy practice on adults who were in midlife or older.  This is a wonderful age range to work with because we (I include myself, of course) have the experience and maturity to look into ourselves deeply and make positive changes in our lives.  Carl Jung was the psychiatrist who pointed out the psychological richness of our later lives.  He, like me, preferred working with older adults.  He felt that human development in later life involved a process that he called individuation.  In individuation we integrate all of the aspects of ourselves, whether or not we have previously acknowledged them, to create an integrated whole that is truly individual and truly us.  This integrated whole is not as dependent on the material world and its norms and standards as our younger self was.  Some might say it is more spiritual. Jung said: “The first half of life is devoted to forming a healthy ego, the second half is going inward and letting go of it.”

Erik Erikson was a developmental theorist who suggested that people go through distinct stages at different ages in life.  The stage that older adults experience he called “Ego Integrity,” which is basically the same as Jung’s individuation.  In this stage we accept ourselves and our lives as we have lived them.  We have a contextual and long-view perspective that could be called wisdom and we have a sense of connection to others.  We experience a degree of ego-transcendence, being less concerned with material reality and instead focusing on a higher level of reality and meaning that gives us hope and enables us to accept the reality of physical death.  One of the ways we achieve this by reviewing our lives through reminiscing, telling stories, being connected to other people, and thinking about our deepest-held values.

As we age, we experience a number of changes and transitions.  Some of the changes we encounter are expected and may be positive.  Sometimes we get unexpected and pleasant surprises.  Other changes harder to deal with such as health issues or the loss of a loved one.  Both positive and negative changes require adjustment.  One thing I do as a therapist is help my clients deal with change in a way that promotes their health and development.  Sometimes clients say to me, about an issue they are dealing with, “I can’t believe I still haven’t resolved this at my age.”  I often respond with a favorite quote of mine from Stephen Johnson, a psychologist.  Johnson said: “Life is a race between maturity and senility.”

Some of the possible changes and transitions experienced by older adults are listed below.  Some are universal, others may or may not occur, depending on individual circumstances.  The issues involved and the timing of changes vary greatly from one person to another.

  • Family structure (grandchildren, two spouses at home, male-female changes, children moving in and out)
  • Work/retirement (partial, phased or full retirement, work change, new career, both spouses at home)
  • Income (decrease?)
  • Structured vs. unstructured time (less structured more unstructured, activities, drinking)
  • Neighborhood demographics (change in age composition, marital status of residents, transition to more or less desirable neighborhood)
  • Downsizing (accumulated stuff, avoiding hoarding, moving to smaller quarters)
  • Relocation (closer to children, grandchildren, destination, retirement home, expat)
  • Changes in social network (changed interests/activities, people moving away, dying)
  • New technology (social media, smart homes, self-driving cars, biological monitoring devices, etc.)
  • Health issues/disabilities/stamina
  • Cognitive and perceptual issues (vision, hearing, cognitive impairment)
  • Driving/mobility issues (getting around)
  • Sleep patterns (adapting, getting enough sleep)
  • Caregiving responsibilities (spouse, adult children, grandchildren)
  • Illness/death of friends and loved ones
  • Widowhood
  • Awareness of/planning for end of life

There are a number of tools and strategies that we can use to enhance our ability to cope with these changes and to continue with our psychological and spiritual development even as we encounter challenges.   One of the purposes of this website is to provide a forum for sharing these tools and strategies.