by Katlyn Clifton
The work of geriatric social workers, and all helping professionals, is deeply meaningful and life-affirming. For professionals who strive to smooth the path and walk down a difficult, uncertain journey with a client, motivation is intrinsic. This chosen vocation is more than a job, it’s a mission that is vital, and with every step, we’re trying to avoid unknown hazards and despair.
I recently read the book The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski. In it, he gives credence to the lessons that the end of life gives us and how they can help us live more fully as our truest selves. I’m excited to share these five invitations with you as I think they will inspire you to be present and “all-in” on as you guide and care for our aging population.
1) Don’t Wait
As we mature in our roles as geriatric social workers and aging-services professionals, we realize that every interaction with an aging client is the prime opportunity to show high-esteem, glean wisdom, and process life-review in the conversation. Whether it is corporate protocols or demands of a hectic schedule, too often outside pressures control the narrative and time spent with our clients. Don’t wait for the perfect moment to create a warm connection. The goal, after all, is to be present… not perfect. Hold space in your client meetings by establishing a warm, meaningful connection first and follow with your stellar social work interventions to enrich your clients’ lives.
2) Welcome Everything, Push Away Nothing
There are times that it is abundantly clear that a client’s narrative is not grounded in reality. It can be frustrating and requires patience to be able to filter what the person is experiencing or telling you. And yet, every person has a need to be heard – and the client’s perspective is the client’s reality. For example, psychosomatic symptoms are absolutely real to the client and affect functionality. Giving a client human credibility means that their issues are straining their reality. Sometimes being an active listener is all that they need; someone to really hear their feelings.
3) Bring Your Whole Self to the Experience
Professionals can ‘be the change [they] want to see’ by being fully present with their clients. This includes active listening, response (rather than reaction), and sincere interest. Frank Ostaseski notes that professionals should be a soul, not a role to those they serve (p. 117).
Delve deep to make yourself a better practitioner. Dig deep to apply your best self to your aging services mission. Think deep to expand your ability and understanding. Love deep to bring meaningfulness to the client’s end-of-life journey.
4) Find a Place of Rest in the Middle of Things
It is said that there is calm in the middle of the storm. For aging-services professionals, there is no such thing as a mission accomplished. Our service doesn’t stop, but our bodies and minds have to. As a social worker, there will also be occurrences that will replenish what so often is drained. Self-care is especially important and time spent making memories is often what makes it all worthwhile.
5) Cultivate Don’t Know Mind
A “don’t know mind” refers to the open-mindedness required in aging services. The professional (for their own sanity) must maintain some wonder, an adventurous spirit, and curiosity when tasked. So often, professionals feel they’ve conquered aging services and they know all there is to know about their specialty. This is a dangerous belief in the meaningful work we do. Carry the belief that each person, each family, will prepare you for the next one. Brene Brown holds the concept that armored leadership wants to be in-the-know and prides itself on being right, while daring leadership wants to be a learner and get it right. Isn’t that a beautiful thought for social work, as we dare to guide our clients on a journey? Remember, it takes courage to admit that you don’t have all the answers. Sometimes the best relationships are those where you can safely grow and learn together… even with clients.
These 5 invitations are based on The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully by Frank Ostaseski and were adapted for geriatric social workers and those working with older adults in any capacity. I hope these concepts and reflections are helpful to you as you continue to do meaningful work with your aging clients and their families.
Katlyn Clifton is a professional End-of-Life Doula working outside Nashville, TN. She holds an M.A. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and a Master’s in Business Administration. She is currently the Executive Director of CTandM Gallatin, an independent retirement campus that specializes in aging development and life planning.
©2020 Katlyn Clifton. All rights reserved.