Nancy Schlossberg: On Aging Gracefully

This is the latest in a series of interviews with APA Books authors. Here Andrew Gifford, Development Editor at APA Books, interviews Nancy Schlossberg, a well-known authority on aging and life after retirement.  Nancy will be speaking at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, DC (5015 Connecticut Ave NW), this Sunday, April 23, at 1:00pm to kick off the release of her new book, Too Young to Be Old: Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age. See more about the event here!

Note: The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the authors and should not be taken to represent the official views or policies of the American Psychological Association.

--Photo by Rod Millington

–Photo by Rod Millington

Nancy K. Schlossberg is an expert in the areas of adult transitions, retirement, career development, adults as learners, and intergenerational relationships. Past President of the National Career Development Association, Co-President of a consulting group TransitionWorks, she is a Professor Emerita, Department of Counseling and Personnel Services, College of Education at the University of Maryland.

Dr. Schlossberg has delivered more than 100 keynote addresses, and has been quoted in the cover story in USA Today, the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Sarasota Herald Tribune, Reader’s Digest, Family Circle, Better Homes and Gardens, U.S. News and World, Consumer Reports.  She has appeared on PBS In the Prime, Derek McGinty’s national talk radio show, CBS This Morning, CBS evening news and is featured in a 90-minute PBS Pledge Special June, 2007, “Retire Smart, Retire Happy.”

AG: In many ways, your latest book feels like part of an unofficial trilogy, starting with the smash hit Retire Smart, Retire Happy which provided a primer on how to adjust to retirement. It was followed by Revitalizing Retirement, which discussed how retirees could reshape their identity and play a vital role in their community.  Too Young to Be Old takes the lessons from the first two books and really emphasizes the idea that retirement is not an ending but a beginning. In it, you discuss relationships, finding your place, embracing adventure, and aging well. Could you tell us a little bit about your own experiences as an author, a psychologist, and a retiree who, herself, is aging very well throughout the process of writing these three books? Do you also see something of a “trilogy” here?

NS: I had not thought of the three books as a trilogy but now that I think about it, each book was an outgrowth of the other. So maybe it is a trilogy. It started with Retire Smart, Retire Happy. I had thought retirement would be a piece of cake. After all, I was an “expert” on transitions and had retired voluntarily. However, retirement for me posed unexpected challenges so I decided to learn how others fared. The result was Retire Smart, Retire Happy. That book became the centerpiece of a PBS special by the same name.

I had many opportunities to continue interviewing and learning about retirement. I realized there was another book which described the paths people follow and the need to strengthen their psychological portfolios. The result was Revitalizing Retirement. This book elaborated on what I had learned in Retire Smart, Retire Happy.

I then became involved in a number of aging projects including writing a transition column for a local magazine. Over time, I realized there was one more—the last—book to focus on aging. This new book broadened my concerns to cover more than retirement. And thus Too Young to be Old was born.

AG: Much of the inspiration for your writing on retirement and aging comes not just from your own experiences, but from the people you’ve worked with in your daily life. Especially after the first book came out, you’ve been engaged by fans and concerned retirees who have come to you with questions about what is often a difficult life transition. What are some of the encounters that have had the most impact on your philosophy and your writing?

NS: Perhaps the most important factor was my own transitions. I found the decade of my eighties filled with transitions—I retired, I became a caregiver, then a widow. I had several surgeries and orthopedic issues. I recovered, began dating and actually went on line, met a retired lawyer, and we now live together. We then moved to a retirement community.

All these transitions make the image of someone in a rocking chair fade.

In addition, many who read my columns reached out saying how they were helped. That made me realize I wanted to keep writing and sharing mine and others experiences.

AG: When Retire Smart, Retire Happy first came out, it coincided with your own decision to retire after nearly three decades teaching counseling psychology at the University of Maryland.  When did you start thinking about ways to retire and age well? Had this been on your mind even in your youth? Or was it your own life transition that spoke to you?

When I was in my late sixties, I went to a retirement party for a much older woman. She was still productive and dynamic. By accident, I left the party walking with two deans. One said, “She should have retired years ago. She is too old to teach and advise.” Right then and there, I knew I would leave before anyone said that about me. And thus began the process of disentangling first from teaching, then advising. My husband and I decided to move to Sarasota where we used to vacation. Since retiring, I have written 4 books and become active in the community. This year will be the first time I have not had a book contract since 1984. So now I will really be retired. I am a bit anxious about it. It is time to reread my own retirement books!

AG: What advice do you give retirees and the soon-to-be-retired about handling this difficult transition?

NS: If someone is struggling to figure out a new path, think about regrets. Is there anything the person wishes he or she had done? If so, is there any way to turn the regret into a plan? That can get someone thinking about a new dream, a new plan.

too young to be oldAG: Too Young to be Old is the first of your titles to really delve into the issue of ageism. America, certainly, is an aging nation. The number of Americans age 55 and older will increase dramatically between now and 2030 – from 60 million today (21 percent of the total US population) to 107.6 million (31 percent of the population) – as the baby boomers reach retirement age.   You’ve written these three books over the course of a decade. What changes have you seen in that time? Is ageism on the rise or the decline? How can individuals embrace aging, and combat ageism?

NS: Ageism is all around us. Even those who are demographically in the old or old-old group exhibit age bias. As the president of AARP wrote, we need to “disrupt aging.” The first step is to be honest about our own ageism, then confront others when they make derogatory comments like, “I live in an old person’s home,” “I just had a senior moment,” “Look at that old lady,” etc.

AG: Do you have some advice on how the children and grandchildren of retirees can help their elders age well and embrace life and happiness after the retirement transition?

NS: Family is very important to most older individuals. So it is important to stay connected. Many of the people I interviewed for Too Young to be Old resented their adult children “bossing” them. Therefore, give the benefit of the doubt to older individuals, give them as much freedom as possible, show respect and help them maintain their dignity.

AG: What is the best thing about aging?

NS: I love the freedom of being 87. I say my age with pride. I never expected to live this long and continue publishing. I like my white hair but must admit the wrinkles surprise and dismay me when I look in the mirror. It is important to remember George Vaillant’s advice–stay young at heart by learning something new, trying something different, and embracing the time you have to spend with family.

Christopher Keys: On Community Psychology

by Kristen Knight

Communities can assume many forms—from online forums to residential neighborhoods, from large collaborations to small groups of people. The APA Dictionary of Psychology, Second Edition, defines community psychology as a discipline “that encourages the development of theory, research, and practice relevant to the reciprocal relationships between individuals and the social systems that constitute the community context.” But these ideas may seem a bit abstract—so we consulted an expert in the field to put them in context.

Christopher B. Keys served on the editorial board of the APA Handbook of Community Psychology—released last October as part of the APA Handbooks in Psychology ® series—along with fellow Editors-in-Chief Meg A. Bond and Irma Serrano-García and Associate Editor Marybeth Shinn. The handbook spans two volumes, and contains 63 chapters contributed by dozens of authors from around the world. It was the first comprehensive work to be published in the field in more than 15 years. Here, Dr. Keys describes community psychology and talks about why it matters.

Note: The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the authors and should not be taken to represent the official views or policies of the American Psychological Association.

Chris Keys picture 2013

Christopher B. Keys, PhD, is a professor emeritus and former chair of the psychology departments at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and DePaul University. He has also been a founder and chair of the community psychology doctoral program in the psychology department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a professor and codirector of the advocacy and empowerment of minorities program in the department of disability and human development at the school. He was the founding associate dean for research in the college of science and health at DePaul University.

Dr. Keys’s research has focused on organizational approaches to community psychology, organizational empowerment, community research issues, and the positive community psychology of disability, and in addition to lecturing and conducting workshops all over the world, he has coauthored and coedited more than 125 articles, chapters, and books on community psychology and disability-related topics. 

KK: How do you define community psychology?

CK: Community psychology is the study of the relationship between person and context and the action taken to improve that relationship by creating a more socially just social contract. More specifically, community psychologists investigate and take action to support and empower persons who have less than their fair share of society’s resources and the variety of community contexts in which they live and by which they are influenced.

KK: How does community psychology apply in our day-to-day lives?

CK: Community psychology examines current social problems and develops constructive ways to address them. Consequently, community psychologists engage in research and action on a variety of important social issues, such as improving educational opportunities, preventing homelessness and enhancing the mental health of those people who are disadvantaged by virtue of society’s marginalization of members of selected groups. These include, but are not limited to, people with disabilities, people living in poverty, people with minority sexual orientations, people of color, and/or women. For example, if you are seeking to improve an after-school program in a low income neighborhood that enhances urban children’s wellbeing and academic performance, then consult relevant work on these issues in community psychology.

KK: What are some of the most important issues that the field is addressing today, and has this changed since the formal recognition of the field more than 50 years ago?

CK: In addition to the topics mentioned above, community psychology issues of particular import today that endure from early in the field’s history include

  • taking an ecological perspective to better grasp the context in which social problems develop and have impact;
  • thinking critically to challenge orthodoxy, such as the assumed preeminence of evidenced-based practice for assessing the quality of interventions; and
  • valuing participation of community members and those from other disciplines as well as partnerships with community organizations in research and action.

Some topics that have grown in importance over the last 50 years since

community psychology was formally established in the United States include (a) celebrating diversity in its many forms; (b) understanding the socioemotional side of community including the psychological sense of community, social capital, and social support; and (c) emphasizing human strengths and resilience in seeking to understand and empower those who face societal prejudice and discrimination.

KK: How do the author demographics and range of topics discussed in the handbook reflect the field?

CK: The handbook authors are a diverse group in terms of demographics, arena of work, and discipline. A notable number are from diverse disciplinary perspectives, nations, races and ethnicities, sexual orientations and career stages. In their diversity, the handbook authors represent the demographic richness of the field of community psychology in the 21st century. The topics addressed by the 63 chapters in 2 volumes include the theoretical foundations of community psychology, the dimensions of context, the methods for research and community change, approaches to social issues, working with diverse groups, emerging challenges, controversies and opportunities, and practical issues related to becoming and being a community psychologist. The handbook also includes topics suggested by experts consulted in an open meeting at the Fourth International Conference of Community Psychology in Barcelona in 2012, and by other thought leaders. Taken together, these topics, while not exhaustive, constitute the most comprehensive coverage of the field to date.

References

Bond, M. A., Serrano-García, I., & Keys, C. B. (Eds.-in-Chief), Shinn, M. (Assoc. Ed.). (2017). APA handbook of community psychology (Vols. 1–2). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Sharon Rostosky and Ellen Riggle: How Same-Sex Couples Can Actively Manage Stress

This is the latest in a series of interviews with APA Books authors. For this interview, Susan Herman, Developmental Editor and consultant for APA Books, spoke with Sharon S. Rostosky and Ellen D. B. Riggle, professors at University of Kentucky. APA Books published Rostosky & Riggle’s book Happy Together: Thriving as a Same-Sex Couple in Your Family, Workplace, and Community in early 2015.

Note: The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the authors and should not be taken to represent the official views or policies of the American Psychological Association.

 

Rostosky headshot

Sharon S. Rostosky, PhD, is a licensed psychologist in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.  She joined the counseling psychology program at the University of Kentucky in 1999, where she is currently a professor and director of training.  Her research, published in more than 60 peer-reviewed journal articles and presented in numerous workshops for professional and general audiences, focuses on minority stress and well-being in individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer and in same-sex couples.

Riggle

Ellen D. B. Riggle, PhD, is a professor in the departments of Gender and Women’s Studies and Political Science at the University of Kentucky.  She is the coeditor of Sexual Identity on the Job and Gays and Lesbians in the Democratic Process.  She has published more than 60 articles and chapters in peer-reviewed journals and books.

 

More information about the work of Dr. Riggle and Dr. Rostosky can be found on their website: www.prismresearch.org 

SH: Happy Together was released a few months shy of the 2015 Supreme Court ruling (Obergefell v. Hodges) that all 50 states in the USA must license and recognize same-sex marriages. What other aspects of the legal landscape have changed since early 2015 regarding same-sex couples?

SR & ER: It’s true that same-sex marriages are legally recognized in all 50 states now. However, there has been an increase in the number of states introducing and passing so-called “religious freedom” laws.  The way that many of these laws are worded effectively gives businesses and institutions the right to discriminate against same-sex couples and LGBT individuals and eliminates any legal recourse by the targets of discrimination.

Some states have also introduced legislation that would allow government officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to or perform marriages for same-sex couples.

Probably the most important aspect of the legal landscape are the things that haven’t changed.  For example, it is still legal in the majority of states to discriminate against LGBT people in jobs, services, and housing.  Marriage equality itself does not protect same-sex couples or LGBT individuals from discrimination.

Marriage equality also has not automatically led to equal parental rights for same-sex couples in all states.  Parental rights are still being questioned in many jurisdictions upon the birth or adoption of a child by same-sex couples.

SH: It’s common to hear about things that put stress on couples, like economic uncertainty, the high cost of child care, or addiction to smartphones and social media. Same-sex and different-sex couples, presumably, deal with all these same issues. What are some distinct concerns touching same-sex couples? 

SR & ER: Our research and that of other scholars shows that public debates surrounding anti-LGBT laws increase minority stress.  The current political environment has many uncertainties for same-sex couples and there is a real fear that the progress of LGBT rights will be halted and that the protections enacted in the past few years may be repealed.  This anxiety puts increased stress on couples that they need to constructively manage.

We wrote Happy Together specifically to help couples develop their strengths to deal with this type of environmental stress.

Because same-sex relationships are still stigmatized, same-sex couples are more likely to experience rejection from members of their family of origin. Imagine not having social support from your family, plus having to make the extra effort to set up appropriate boundaries with one or more especially prejudiced family members.

Same-sex couples may also have to expend more time and energy finding community support than different-sex couples.  For instance, same-sex couples may have to work harder to find an LGBTQ-affirmative religious or spiritual community, or an affirmative health service provider.

Same-sex couples also have to negotiate how “out” each partner will be in their respective workplaces, especially if one or both couple members 

lack basic workplace protections like inclusive nondiscrimination policies.

Same-sex couples who are parents worry about how their children and family will be treated by neighbors and school personnel.  These couples tend to spend more time than other parents advocating at their children’s school.

When they’re also subjected to prejudice based on racial identities, immigration status, economic disadvantage, disability, etc., same-sex couples can face significant stress.  What we have learned in our research, however, is that despite these challenges, same-sex couples can and do create enduring and satisfying relationships.

SH: In your clinical work, do you see particular strengths emerging from same-sex couple relationships that you might not see as often with different-sex couples? 

SR & ER: Same-sex couples often attribute their relationship satisfaction and longevity to their ability to create meaning and purpose out of their negative experiences.  For instance, same-sex couples might draw on their experience to understand and empathize with other marginalized groups and engage in social activism. Same-sex couples often create “families of choice” and rely on these families for social support, as well as provide support for others.

In our many interviews with same-sex couples over the years, we have witnessed how they cope by using humor and expressing appreciation for their similarities and differences.

We’ve also found that same-sex couples are more likely than different-sex couples to equally share responsibility for maintaining their relationship, by actively talking through and negotiating differences. We think this is because, without strict gender roles, same-sex couples feel more free to write their own relationship scripts.

SH: In addition to seeking out LGBTQ-affirming community resources and helping professionals, what can same-sex couples do to lower their stress levels and build themselves up? happy together

SR & ER: For people who like to read, we of course recommend our books. We have translated 15 years of basic research into two accessible books. Our first one, A Positive View of LGBTQ: Embracing Identity and Cultivating Well-being, is a resource for recognizing and using LGBTQ identity strengths. The second book, Happy Together: Thriving as a Same-Sex Couple in Your Family, Workplace, and Community, focuses on helping same-sex couples deal with minority stress. Both books are full of conversation starters and exercises.

One exercise in A Positive View of LGBTQ presents a “starter list” of self-care activities for readers to consider and build upon.

One activity in Happy Together guides couples to reflect on times when they anticipate rejection at work and then discuss how that fear affects their couple relationship. We give examples about how to take anxious thoughts and construct more helpful messages that can help them cope.

When we talk to same-sex couples who have been together 25, 35, 45 years, they tell us that one ‘secret to their success’ as a couple was building on their shared values and engaging in experiences that kept them learning and growing together. Shared values may involve recreational activities, spiritual/religious/educational pursuits, and commitments to making the world a more compassionate and supportive place through artistic expression, volunteerism, or community organizing.

Making a commitment to social change and social action is another powerful way to counter stress. We’ve met couples who engage in social activism on behalf of other oppressed minorities, women, people with AIDS, homeless youth, animals, the environment, food security—and that type of engagement is part of what makes their relationship flourish.

A good piece of advice for same-sex couples (and for anyone) doing social justice activism is to balance it with self-care and couple-care.  Couples must keep their relationship healthy and strong because, as Dr. Glenda Russell reminds us, we must take the long view or a “movement perspective” when it comes to bringing about social change.

 

 

 

 

Online Dating: Blessing or Curse?

me4by Katie ten Hagen

Let’s talk about dating. And by dating, I mean: online dating.

Online dating is both loved and reviled. Sites like Tinder and OKCupid make meeting new people easier than ever. But sifting through thousands of matches, starting and abandoning conversations like half-written novels, and repeatedly ditching bad first dates, can be draining.  Many yearn for a return to “simpler” days, and want to meet someone the “old fashioned way,” no matter how nostalgia-based and romanticized this yearning may be.

But still, these sites are still thriving. Those who are exhausted from the search for love keep going back, time and time again. What makes us do this? Why do we put ourselves through the heartbreak and stress again and again?

heart-1990963_1920There’s no simple answer other than that this is how the world is evolving. We shop for everything on the internet, from food to clothes to things to do. So why not love as well?  There is undeniable appeal to being able to “preview” a person before really trying them out. Why waste a night on a bad date if you can establish from a profile or a few sentences of conversation that there’s no possibility? Even sites like Tinder, where a match is based simply on mutual physical appeal, allow for quick weeding-out based on preliminary conversation.

Some may claim online dating is just a game, or a cure for boredom. People may join simply to peruse, with no intention of starting a relationship or even meeting someone. I had a friend who joined Tinder solely to talk to people about their dogs. (This was a bit disingenuous; she was in a happy, committed relationship, and the people she was “matching” with were presumably looking for slightly more than for her to just ask “what kind of dog is that?” But to be fair, her profile did clearly (and only) state “I swipe for dogs.”)

But online dating sites aren’t just for millennials. In fact, the main characteristics that people are looking for on dating sites don’t seem to vary by age. One study, (Menkin, Robles, Wiley, & Gonzaga, 2015) of users ranging from 20-95 on eHarmony, “found that users consistently valued communication and characteristics such as personality or kindness more than sexual attraction.” The researchers also found that “there was little evidence that older users valued companionship more,” and that older users valued sexual appeal just as highly as younger users.  This finding is echoed in the work of Nancy Schlossberg, whose LifeTools books Retire Smart, Retire Happy: Finding Your True Path in Life, and Revitalizing Retirement: Reshaping Your Identity, Relationships, and Purpose examine themes of “positive aging.”  Her forthcoming book, Too Young to Be Old: Love, Learn, Work, and Play as You Age (to be released in April, 2017), tackles the world of online dating for retirees head-on.

At the same time, Menkin et al. cautioned that their results were “similar to the finding that across the life span, people generally want to experience more low-arousal positive emotions (such as the warmth and comfort companionship provides) compared to high-arousal positive emotions (such as the excitement associated with sexual attraction).” This came as a surprise to me when I first read it, but makes sense upon reflection; plenty of people like to flirt with no intention of anything more.

Perhaps this explains people like my friend, who only swipe for dogs.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

References

Menkin, J. A., Robles, T. F., Wiley, J. F., & Gonzaga, G. C. (2015). Online dating across the life span: Users’ relationship goals. Psychology and Aging, 30(4), 987-993. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0039722