The journal article that framed the discussion was about shadow stories – but this was not new information for the highly experienced group of practitioners gathered at the Round Table. As mental health practitioners, it is our role to ask the difficult questions in order to understand the older adults that we serve. Some settings tend to be more conducive to discovering these stories.
A therapist in private practice not only has the time and confidentiality to dig deeply, but s/he has presumably been engaged to do so. The older adult/the client has voluntarily entered into a relationship in order to sort out some troubling aspects of one’s life. In other settings, it is not always so easy. Discharge from hospital or rehab doesn’t allow for extended discussions to determine likes, dislikes, needs, or personal preferences. Group settings can be hampered by issues of group dynamics including trust and confidentiality. A care manager’s role typically assists with transitions or facilitates a discussion about care responsibilities among family members. The journal article spoke to the specific setting of a research interview and protocol which, by its very nature is limited, utilizing a prescribed set of questions and a pre-written script. However, underneath any and all of these situations is a life story that may give insight into what motivates or compels behavior.
The question was raised about the difference between narrative and reminiscence and life-review. To me reminiscence is the re-telling of life events, historical information, pleasant memories such as music and clothing and visual memories of home and place. Reminiscence can teach and convey experience and wisdom to younger generations and offer a sense of purpose and meaning – in fact it is treasured by family and younger generations. But narrative gives reminiscence depth. Narrative care lies in the hands of the listener, the receiver — not simply to hear historical events, but to frame the events and give them a context in which the person can say, “Mine has been a good life, a life well lived.”
We are narrative gerontoloigists! This was a concept written about in the editorial introduction to the special issue of the Journal of Aging Studies (Volume 34, 2015). The writers say, “The most important issue for narrative gerontologists…centers on how meaning is communicated in the stories of our lives and on how giving voice to that meaning helps to better understand how a life has been lived, is lived, and can be lived…Narrative care is core care as essential to provide as is food, or shelter, or medical care.”
And when we sit beside and are truly WITH an older adult it is easy to recognize the power of his or her life story. And isn’t that what draws us to this work?
The Round Table Discussion Group meets monthly for an interdisciplinary conversation with experienced professionals in the field of aging. Each conversation uses one or two journal articles as reference points. The articles read for this discussion were:
Narrative Care Through Careful Listening, Kate de Medeiros, Robert L. Rubinstein, Journal of Aging Studies 34 (2015) 162-168