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May is Older Americans Month

To accomplish your goals, take care of yourself first

May is Older Americans Month, a time to recognize the contributions that older adults make to our communities. The theme of this year’s observance is “Blaze a Trail,” offering an opportunity to look at how older adults are advocating to better their lives and the lives of those around them. 

To take care of others, you must also pay attention to your own needs and make sure you are taking care of yourself. Though the lovely Lucille Ball is no longer with us, her wise words live on: “Love yourself first, and everything else falls in line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.”

Taking care of your mental health is as important as taking care of your physical health, whether you’re dealing with depression, anxiety, cognitive changes, substance abuse, or even navigating the changes that aging can bring to your living situation.

How psychotherapy can help you overcome personal issues

Susan SprungClinical social workers like Susan Sprung and other psychotherapists offer people a chance to explore new ways to eliminate or reduce the issues they are experiencing in a safe and supportive environment.“In my office, on my chair, I have a little embroidered pillow that says, ‘Hope,’ and people get to see that when they’re talking to me, and I think it makes an impact,” says Susan Sprung, MSW, a licensed independent clinical social worker in Greenfield, Mass., who works with many older adults. “That’s what there is in this office. Besides all the skills that I have to teach people that they can go home and use on their own, I offer hope that they can get more control over the issues in their life and lead a life that is more satisfying to them.”

“Most of my clients are people who have led very successful lives,” says Sprung. “They’ve worked, they’ve raised families, they’ve been involved in their communities, in spite of the fact that they have been struggling with some personal issues.” Sprung practices psychotherapy, offering a safe, nonjudgmental, and confidential place explore and gain new skills to handle those issues. “They have a place to really think about the decisions that they want to make and play out the potential consequences of different decisions or how they want to address things.”

“What gets people in the door,” says Sprung, “is pain,” motivating them to seek help, or sometimes it takes encouragement from a family member or a referral from their physician or nurse practitioner. “The goal is for us to figure out why people are in pain and what we can do to eliminate or reduce that pain.”

“What keeps them,” says Sprung, “is that they get a sense of connection and that there’s someone really listening and trying to work with them to help them feel more empowered in their lives.”

“Besides using the breathing techniques and other mindfulness techniques and relaxation techniques,” says Sprung, “one of the things that really helps people change is being aware of what they’re telling themselves about a situation,” which is something that many people may not be paying attention to. “I’ll give you an example about that: Two cars are stuck in traffic. The person in the first car is saying to himself, ‘Oh, no, this is terrible. I’m going to be late. People are going to be upset with me,’ and that person’s level of anxiety goes way up. The person in the car right behind him tells herself, ‘Oh, well. There’s traffic. I’ll get there when I get there. This is a good time for me to practice my breathing exercises. Either way, I’m getting there at the same time. I can get there frustrated and upset, or I can get there calm; my choice.’ People think it’s the traffic that caused them to become upset. It’s not the traffic that leads to us being upset, it’s what we tell ourselves, but we’re not really aware of that conversation going on in our heads. We skip right over it, from event to emotion, and we don’t realize that there’s this intervening period where we told ourselves what to think.”

Sprung helps people to learn how to identify what they’re telling themselves in such moments and to challenge the subconscious assumptions they have about those situations. “‘Okay, when that happens, really pay attention to what you were telling yourself about it. Ask yourself, “Is that always true? Is that ever not true? How can I talk back to that assumption?”’”

If you think talking with a clinical social worker or other psychotherapist would be helpful to you or a loved one in your life, call the Information & Caregiver Resource Center at LifePath and ask for a list of local and statewide resources: 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259.

To accomplish your goals, take care of yourself first