Increased religious questioning among Teenagers


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The teenage years are one’s for exploration of self and one’s place in the world.  It is the formidable period when children start to ascend the ladder to adulthood.  It is a complicated time of change and increased autonomy while still remaining in need of parental support.  It is also a time of “rebellion” from the values of one’s parents.  In a piece in the Wall Street Journal, The Teenage Spiritual Crisis, there is discussion of why teenagers show increased struggle with the religion of their youth, while also beginning to see their faith in a more sophisticated way,  One point which I find in need of more discussion is how teenage rejection is less about denial of Gd and more about religion not always being in the forefront of their lives.  The rejection is more in ritual and outward showing of faith than in underlying belief.

The Teenage Spiritual Crisis

As adolescents form values and ideals based on personal experiences, many question their religious beliefs more intensely

By  Clare Ansberry

Thomas Ramey quit praying a few years ago when he was 16 years old because it didn’t seem to matter.

The 18-year-old, who was baptized and confirmed as a Methodist, doesn’t believe in an afterlife, but still believes in a God. He goes to church regularly because he likes playing in the youth band, volunteering and listening to people who have different opinions. “I doubt everything,” says Thomas, who plans to study engineering.

That is true of many teens, who grew up praying, going to houses of worship, and studying religious texts. As 6-year-olds, they were convinced there was a God and heaven and that everything in the Bible was true, for example. Now they aren’t so sure.

The teen brain grows rapidly, and with it the ability to think more abstractly and critically. In early adolescence, teens begin to establish their own ideals and recognize hypocrisy in people and institutions around them. They deal with heartbreak and social cliques, see suffering in the world and wonder if there is a God who cares. They are trying to figure out their place and how and if something like religion belongs.

Exploring such questions is the most important work a teen can do, says Lisa Miller, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Spiritual Child.” Research shows that adolescents with a strong personal spirituality are found to be 60% less likely to be severely depressed as teenagers, she says.

Andrew Zirschky, academic director of the Center for Youth Ministry Training in Brentwood, Tenn., says some children start doubting faith in middle school, when many of them begin preparing for confirmation and bar mitzvahs and bat mitzvahs.

“Right when kids are having the most doubts, we ask them to affirm their faith,” says Dr. Zirschky. Many plow ahead despite misgivings because they feel pressured to do so, he says, and because churches do a poor job of allowing faith and doubt to coexist. He asks sixth-graders to draw the image of God they had in first grade. It is often a white bearded figure sitting in the cloud. When he asks them to draw the image now, they draw hearts, and use words like “loving” or “All-knowing.”

“At some point, you have to doubt your previous understanding of who God is and replace it with a better one,” he tells them.

While teens doubt, they aren’t ready to give up on the idea of God and the importance of religion. A significant majority—84% of 13- to 17-year-olds believe in God, according to a National Study of Youth and Religion, a longitudinal survey of more than 3,000 teens conducted in 2002 and led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Notre Dame. Three years later, belief among the same teens, then 16- to 21-years-old, slipped to 78%.

Teens often see God as a cosmic therapist, solving problems and generally making people happier, but distant, says sociologist Patricia Snell Herzog, who worked on the study. A large majority believe religion is important, but many become less actively involved as they age through adolescence. “Religion is just there in the background,” says Dr. Herzog. “We describe it as the furniture of their life.”

Thomas Ramey was born and raised in Decatur Ala., part of the U.S. known as the Bible Belt. He went to Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church three times a week, twice on Sunday and every Wednesday. His mother, Lisa, taught Sunday school.

When he was 8 years old, and able to read, he received his first Bible, which he and his mother read together. “He always asked lots of questions,” says Mrs. Ramey. At 11, after weeks of studying, he was confirmed, and was a Chaplain aid for his Boy Scout troop, leading prayers before meals and at campouts. At that time, he says he believed in God and what the Bible said.

His views started changing in his midteens. His youth group had cliques. He was in the social outcasts group, he says, and he encountered some hostility from certain church leadership against some of his friends who were gay.

“When you see people behave in wrongful, hurtful, hypocritical ways, it’s kind of hard to believe that God cares,” he says.

Philip Galyon, the current youth minister, says teens in high school identify fallacies and hypocrisies. “They push back,” he says, and ask, “Why do people who say they are Christian treat other people poorly?” He remembers struggling when he was age 17 and his parents divorced. His father was a minister. “I thought why should I still believe this?” He wondered what good their faith did.

Thomas hit another hard stretch when he was about age 16 and three people close to him died, including a friend of the family who had dementia. Thomas and his mother visited often, helping the man’s wife care for him. “For weeks I prayed for God to kill this man so his wife wouldn’t have to see him in pain anymore,” he says. “He suffered and died in a terrible way.”

“Thomas is very compassionate,” says Mrs. Ramey. He stops in twice a week to help an elderly neighbor empty her trash and works in a soup kitchen.

Sometime after that, he quit praying. “If something bad is going to happen, it’s going to happen,” he says. “Deal with it head on. I am not going to sit there and say to God ‘Don’t let this happen and don’t let that happen.’”

Thomas still believes in God. The earth and solar system are too complex and fragile not to have something influencing and connecting everything, he says. “Whether whatever created us, loves us, is a different matter,” he says. He doubts there is an afterlife and isn’t troubled by that.

His strongest belief these days is in “the equality of all humans from birth to death, and that the only meaning we have in this world is that which we inject into it.”

Resolutions for the Grieving


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I came across this list of Gentle Resolutions for the Grieving which were adapted from Adapted from New Year’s Resolutions for the Grieving by Ronnie Walker.  As we enter the new year, thinking about the things we want to change, for those confronting the realities of loss and grief, the following list might inspire one to take a different approach to the challenges that a death can bring for the mourner.

Gentle Resolutions for the Grieving

I resolve…

– That I will grieve as much, and for as long, as I feel like grieving, and that I will not let others put a time table on my grief.

~That I will grieve in whatever way I feel like grieving, and I will ignore those who try to tell me what I should or should not be feeling and how I should or should not be acting.

~That I will cry whenever and wherever I feel like crying, and that I will not hold back my tears just because someone else feels I should be “brave” or “getting better” or “strong.”

~That I will talk about my loved one as often as I want to, and will find people who know how to listen.

~That I will not blame myself for my loved one’s death, and that I will constantly remind myself that I did the best job I could possibly have done. But when feelings of guilt are overwhelming, I will remind myself that this is a normal part of the grief process and it, too, will pass.

~That I will communicate with my loved one in whatever way feels comfortable and natural to me, and that I won’t feel compelled to explain this to others or to justify or even discuss it with them.

~That I will try to eat, sleep, and exercise every day in order to give my body the strength it will need to help me cope with my grief.

~To know that I am not losing my mind and to remind myself that loss of memory, feelings of disorientation, lack of energy, and a sense of vulnerability are all normal parts of the grief process.

~To know that I will survive and heal, even though it may take a long time.

~To let myself heal and not to feel guilty about feeling better.

~To remind myself that grieving is a process and that I may not make steady upward progress. There will be good days and bad days. When I find myself feeling stuck, I will remind myself feeling that way is normal.

~That I will reach out at times, and try to help someone else, knowing that helping others will help me cope with my grief and grow more resilient.

~That even though my loved one is dead, I will opt for life when and as I am able.

 Adapted from New Year’s Resolutions for the Grieving by Ronnie Walker 

Imagine is a free year-round children’s grief support center that serves NJ children age 3-18 and young adults 18-30 who are grieving the death of a parent or sibling, or who are living with a parent of sibling with a life-altering illness. Imagine also provides grief education and training for thousands of teachers, parents, coaches, youth and other adults annually.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer’s alone, and do not reflect the opinions of or anyone who works for is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

Clergy talking about death


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Some years ago, I was asked to address a group of community clergy regarding death, dying and end of life care.  In the course of my lecture, I indicated that this topic is mostly taboo from a pulpit because the clergy themselves struggle with a sense of self death-awareness.  Most in the audience agreed.  As I continued, focusing one how our public prayers contain many references to death and life after death.  We can say the words in prayer, but to have intention and meaning in those words tends not to be emphasized.

A short piece, Religion, patients, providers, was published describing the value of religious leaders having end-of-life discussions.  While it is unfortunate that the article doesn’t discuss the importance of how chaplain/spiritual care providers can be a resource for this discussion, it is encouraging to see the increase in confronting the realities of life in religious communities.

Religion, patients, providers

Published 8:13 pm, Friday, December 2, 2016

Talking about death is a daunting topic, and we applaud the growing number of congregations that are giving their members tools and resources to have conversations with their families and loved ones around end-of-life preferences.

But as important as these discussions are, it is also crucial that health care providers are prepared to have end-of-life conversations with patients, especially when religion plays a role in the patient’s decision-making.

In the United States, where 78 percent say religion is important to their lives, it will inevitably emerge in health care. A study found 41 percent of patients thought of a time when religion influenced one of their health care decisions. Its impact might be patients needing a kosher, halal or vegetarian hospital meal or requests to coordinate medical procedures around prayer times.

The most profound intersection may be in end-of-life care. Religion can influence the procedures patients want to receive, or reject, such as starting artificial respiration or removing this support once it is in place. Religious beliefs may affect patients’ beliefs about the afterlife and help frame their illness in a context that medical professionals need to understand.

Yet health care providers are often ill-equipped to discuss religion when it does come up, with one study finding that one in five medical residents reported being unprepared to care for patients whose religious beliefs affected their treatment. This discomfort means that important conversations about how religion affects patients’ end-of-life decisions simply never happen.

Medical students, residents, nurses and nurses’ aides need training that goes beyond a one-off course in cultural competence. They need expertise in taking a spiritual history as a routine part of taking a patient’s history.

Even when patients don’t know right away what their care might entail or how religion may be relevant for them, asking these initial questions can open the door to further conversations and make the patient more comfortable voicing their beliefs if and when they become relevant. The result can lead to better care every day, and certainly as life draws to a close.

Clinicians need to learn to recognize signs of spiritual distress so they can refer patients to pastoral care for spiritual support and guidance. These should be skill sets that we expect from our providers and that they are trained to execute.

Today, more and more organizations and communities, including religious communities are promoting open, honest and proactive conversations around end-of-life preferences.

As that trend continues, it is important to ensure that health care providers need know to ask about a dimension of many people’s lives that influences their choices, and then incorporate their patients’ religious beliefs and practices into a plan for care.

Eliza Blanchard works at the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding.

Return and a cool story


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In a moment of inspiration, I have decided to revive this blog.  To begin, I want to share a story that I read in Sports Illustrated a couple of weeks after the Cubs won the World Series. It is an example of a phenomenon we often see among many who are dying. People will often will him/herself to live for a milestone event,  often a birthday, family celebration or holiday. A question was recently posed about whether people have stories of someone who might have pushed themselves to live for a major sporting event in which their team had a chance to win. These stories in general show how a person’s will to live can overcome at times the ravages of illness. This is also personally important as my maternal grandfather, who had been ill for many years, pushed himself to live long enough to be present (with some convincing and cajoling) at his oldest grandson’s, my, Bar Mitzvah before succumbing to a variety of illness a month after.

Here is the story (the story was told in two parts in the article):

On the night of Game 7, 88-year-old John Matijevich, who was once a member of the Illinois House of Representatives for 26 years, stayed up to watch on a small television from his upstairs bedroom at his home in North Chicago. Matijevich, the son of a Croatian immigrant who put down roots in North Chicago, was born on Christmas Day 1927. He was a lifelong Cubs fan who rarely missed a game on TV and took frequent trips to Wrigley to watch from his preferred spots in the bleachers or the upper deck. Twice he got to use the box seats assigned to the House majority leader.

Matijevich left office in 1992, and his health started to decline last February, when he was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. But on this night he was more robust than he had been in months. He stayed up not only for the last out but also for two hours of the postgame coverage. Rizzo, his favorite player—“he plays the game the right way and has a great attitude”—caught the final out.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s happened in my lifetime,” he told his 46-year-old son, Robert, who had been watching on a bigger television downstairs but came up to share the championship moment. “I didn’t think I’d ever get to see it.”

He fell asleep with a smile on his face…

A few hours after John Matijevich went to sleep with a smile on his face, at about 5:30 in the morning, Robert heard a thump on the floor above him. He rushed upstairs. He saw his father collapsed on the floor. He called 911.

An ambulance rushed John to the hospital. He was taken into an emergency room. Robert wanted to see his dad. He couldn’t find an attendant to help so he went looking for his father until he found a board that listed the initials JM, the number 88 and the letters e-x-p. Expired. A strange word. Robert, who had been his father’s full-time caregiver the past two years, remembered hearing it for the first time as a euphemism for dead when he was a young boy. Somebody had called to say that one of his grandparents had expired. Now his father had expired.

“It’s never easy, and you’re never really prepared for it,” Robert says. “But from the bottom of my heart, I’m so happy he got to live for these extra nine months. I think this is the real reason why he did. I know it sounds corny and like a cliché, but there’s a reason it happened like this. It’s like he said, ‘I saw the Cubs win the World Series in my lifetime. And now it’s time.’”


Know Thyself: self-knowledge is a precursor to relationship


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Anyone who has trained to offer mental health, spiritual, or psychosocial care knows that part of the training process in coming to a greater understand of oneself. It is important as self-knowledge can help each of us understand those things that trigger adverse reactions and learn how to both recognize and work within those triggers. The same holds true for all life’s relationships. In the following article, the authors describe the value of self-knowledge in our personal relationships as well.

Why Knowing Yourself Helps All Your Relationships

One goal common to many types of psychotherapy as well as psychoanalysis is to learn about yourself, who you are (your inner self and outer self) at present and how you got there.

Yet knowing yourself may be one of the hardest tasks you’ll ever attempt.For many of us, a myriad of obstacles spring up when we attempt it.

If you tend to be intellectual or philosophical, you might get mired in questions such as: “Who is the me/self that is assessing the me/self?”

If you tend to be emotional, you might get bogged down in less-than-positive emotions around the issue.

If you are more likely to be spiritual, questions such as “Why am I here” or “Why was I created” can sometimes stymie self-knowledge.

But knowing yourself is important to all your relationships, helping you fine tune your sense of humanness.

Parents and Kids

Effective parents, for example, know themselves. Self-awareness without self-centerdness, is an important ingredient in any relationship but essential to healthy parenting.

In order to deeply understand what your child needs, to really “get” where your child is coming from, and how he experiences the world around him, it’s essential that you know who you are: what makes you tick, what brings you down, what uplifts you, what turns you off.

When we know who we are, we are more open to seeing beyond the surface in others.
But in order to understand who we are, we have to take the time to do so. By learning more about who you are and how you feel about yourself, your child, and life in general, you’ll be able to interact more effectively—and lovingly—with your child.

—From The Parent-Child Dance: A Guide to Help You Understand and Shape Your Child’s Behavior by pediatric behavioral specialist Miriam Manela, OTR/L and C.R. Zwolinski (PsychCentral’s Therapy Soup)

One of the most important things I’ve learned while working on The Parent-Child Dance with Miriam, is that in any relationship, having an appreciation for who you are and an understanding of how you “take in” the world, how you experience life, really makes a difference to how you relate to others.

Seems obvious, doesn’t it?

But sometimes you have to hear an obvious fact over and over again before it sticks.


You have to know what makes you tick, in order to find satisfying work. You also need to have an appreciation of what makes others tick, in order to create satisfying work relationships. This can be on the smaller scale, for example, you don’t need to know everything about that person in another department who you meet once a month, but knowing the person you are teaming with on a project can be vital.

Coworkers get together after work to relax and unwind, but this is the best time to pay attention and really listen to your coworkers. You may see a sense of humor you’ve never noticed before, or learn about the personal pressures they are under. Carry your knowledge through to your work relationship so you can be supportive, as well as tap into their talents and interests.

Friendships and Personal Relationships

Sometimes, we can be a little obsessed with having our own needs met. And sometimes we can push our own needs to the background, so much so that we forget who we are. Striking that balance requires paying attention and learning all the ways in which you cope, deflect, or deny.

Knowing yourself doesn’t mean that you cannot change yourself. You have to know yourself well enough to sense whether change will enrich your relationships, emotional well-being, and life in general.

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is an internationally licensed psychotherapist and addiction specialist with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. Learn more about Richard here.

What death can teach the living


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I find death reflection to be a very honest look at living. While it is only a microcosm of the mindset of the dying, reflecting on what it means to have limits to life is a valuable exercise. The following is one person’s death reflection looking at meaning in life after experiencing multiple deaths in the first week of 2015.

4 Things Death Teaches Us About Life
Posted: 01/08/2015 3:07 pm EST Updated: 01/08/2015 3:59 pm EST
Renee Lo Iacono

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have always imagined.” — Henry David Thoreau

“No, there have been four deaths,” my mom’s husband corrected me. “Your cousin’s mom died yesterday.” Talk about a grim way to start off the New Year. The man who lived across the street from my mom, the elderly lady my mom cared for years ago, my brother’s friend’s wife — she was only 32, four years younger than I am — and now my aunt. How is that for the first week of 2015?

The interesting thing about death is that if we’re not “old” or in poor health, it isn’t something that is at the forefront of our mind. Meaning, we think we have plenty of time. It’s this false sense of time that keeps us in jobs we’re unhappy with for a decade or in passionless relationships or from chasing our dreams.

Five years ago my brother’s friend Jona found out he had a rare form of cancer and within a few weeks he passed away. Jona documented his last six weeks in a blog — prepare to shed some tears. He was only 27. What would you do if you knew you only have six weeks left to live?

To have four people within my extended circle of family and friends die within the same week, made death feel not only inevitable, but closer to home. Regardless of how much or little time we have left, here are four things death teaches us about life.

“It often takes suffering and lost in order to remind us of how precious life is.” — Rob Bell

1. Our time is limited. Whether we live to be 27 years old like Jona or we live to be 107 years old, until science is able to figure out a way to make us live forever, one day our life on this planet will come to an end. Meaning, that we don’t have time to wait to take that trip to Italy we’ve been dreaming about the last few years or to start a business or to spend more time with our family because, like it or not, the clock is ticking. So how do you want to spend your precious days or weeks, or even minutes?

Six months ago while in France, I had a brush with death when a motorcycle nearly ran me over. That was enough to make me speed up the changes I was considering making at the end of the year. I’ll just give it a few more months and see, I kept thinking, when in fact I already knew what needed to happen and was basically procrastinating.

2. Follow our heart. As Steve Jobs so famously said, “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” I know it can be scary chasing after our dreams, ask anyone who has tried, myself included. Following your heart, following your passion, dreaming big is not easy, because if it were everyone would be doing it. But, here’s the thing, would you rather live a life of What ifs? or a life of I’m going for it!

“You are never too old or too broken. It is never too late to begin, or to start all over again.” — Bikram Choudhury

3. Second chances. Life is all about second chances. Bikram Choudhury, the founder of Bikram Yoga said “You are never too old or too broken. It is never too late to begin, or to start all over again.” Each day, each breath, each moment is an opportunity for us to try again, a chance to create the life we truly want and to go after our dreams. When was the last time you asked yourself, Am I living the life I really want? If the answer is no, then maybe it’s time to figure out what you can do to change it.

4. The present moment. Now is the only guarantee we have. Now is what matters most in life. In the Power of NOW, Eckhart Tolles says, “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.” Although some things take time and cannot be created overnight, the now is where the miracles happen. Now is when we have the opportunity to experience the intricate details of life. However, to fully experience the joys of watching your child take their first step or the majestic Na Pali coast, it is important for us to be fully present, to live in that space of wonderment where life is currently happening.

How addicted to technology are we?


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Psychological research is working to uncover how addicted we are to our smartphones.  In a recent study, there was physiological evidence to suggest that people not allowed to use their Iphones saw increases in anxiety and blood pressure.  Scary.  I think it is a reality that most of us are adapting to.  The challenge of course is being able to make the choice to reduce usage or at least acknowledge “iphone separation anxiety.”

Proof That Being Away From Your iPhone Causes Psychological Problems

Researchers at the University of Missouri have found that iPhone users lose the plot when they’re without their much-loved devices.

The University of Missouri (MU) has published a study that shows iPhone separation causes “serious physiological and psychological effects” and leads to poor performance in cognitive tests.

The researchers behind the study even go as far to say that iPhones are capable of becoming “extensions of our selves” — and that we fall into a negative physiological state when they’re far away. MU also suggests that when we’re doing important tasks, we shouldn’t be without our iPhones, as otherwise things go badly wrong.

Published on Jan. 8, the study reveals analysis that was carried out on 40 iPhone users to better understand the impact of smartphone usage and “specifically what happens when people are separated from their phones”.

MU explains its team asked iPhone users to sit at a computer cubicle in a media psychology lab. Participants were told the experiment was actually to test the reliability of a new wireless blood pressure cuff — when in fact they were under the microscope to see just how reliant on their iPhones they are in daily life.

The participants had to complete a word search puzzle — first with their iPhone by their side, MU writes, and then without it. The group was told their phones were causing “bluetooth interference” for the second half of the study when they had to part with their devices. Their heart rates and blood pressure levels were monitored — and the people also recorded their own levels of anxiety and how unpleasant they felt during both tasks.

Russel Clayton, a doctoral candidate at MU and lead author of the work, says on the MU website: “Our findings suggest that iPhone separation can negatively impact performance on mental tasks. Additionally, the results from our study suggest that iPhones are capable of becoming an extension of our selves such that when separated, we experience a lessening of ‘self’ and a negative physiological state.”

Clayton worked with the University of Oklahoma’s Glenn Leshner and a doctoral student from Indiana University-Bloomington on the project.

The team writes: “The researchers found a significant increase in anxiety, heart rate and blood pressure levels, and a significant decrease in puzzle performance when the participants were separated from their iPhones as compared to when iPhone users completed similar word search puzzles while in possession of their iPhones.”

The findings underpin just how addicted we’ve become to technology. Researchers say that being apart from your iPhone could result in “poor cognitive performance” when doing things like sitting tests, attending conferences, or taking part in meetings

Read more:

Social Media usage for Seniors can be good


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It seems that not all social media usage is negative after all.  There was a study indicating that teaching the elderly about social media improves their well being.  The training increases cognition and increases connections to others.

By Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on December 15, 2014

Teaching Elderly to Use Social Media Improves Well-being

A new landmark study from the UK finds that training older people in the use of social media has a myriad of benefits.

Researchers found that proficiency in social media improves cognitive capacity, increases a sense of self-competence, and could have a beneficial overall impact on mental health and well-being among elderly individuals.

The two-year project gave a group of vulnerable older adults a specially-designed computer, broadband connection, and training in how to use them.

Those who received training became more positive about computers over time, with the participants particularly enjoying connecting with friends and relatives via Skype and email.

The ageing population is one of the major challenges facing our society. It is expected that between 2010 and 2060, the number of people aged 65 will grow from 17.4 percent to 29.5 percent of the total population.

The project, called Ages 2.0, aimed to assess the extent to which the internet and social media offer a tool for promoting active ageing and addressing the social isolation that is too often a feature of older age.

Researchers discovered that those trained had heightened feelings of self-competence, engaged more in social activity, had a stronger sense of personal identity, and showed improved cognitive capacity.

These factors indirectly led to overall better mental health and well-being.

Dr Thomas Morton of the University of Exeter, who led the project said, “Human beings are social animals, and it’s no surprise that we tend to do better when we have the capacity to connect with others. But what can be surprising is just how important social connections are to cognitive and physical health.

“People who are socially isolated or who experience loneliness are more vulnerable to disease and decline. For these reasons finding ways to support people’s social connections is a really important goal.

“This study shows how technology can be a useful tool for enabling social connections, and that supporting older people in our community to use technology effectively can have important benefits for their health and well-being.”

Participants in the study were all vulnerable older adults between the ages of 60 and 95 years of age who were receiving support from a government supported community or residential home. The 76 volunteers were drawn both from those receiving care in the community and those living in any of the not-for-profit organization’s 31 residential care homes.

Half of the participants were randomly assigned to receive training and the other half to a control group who received care as usual. The training involved the installation of an ‘Easy PC package’ consisting of a touch screen computer and keyboard, and a broadband internet connection. They were able to keep the computer for 12 months, including a three-month training period.

One of the study’s participants, Margaret Keohone, said, “Having this training changes people’s lives and opens up their worlds, invigorates their minds, and for lots of us gives us a completely different way of recognizing our worth as we age. I was just slipping away into a slower way of life.”

Emma Green, the Care Technologist who delivered training to Margaret and others in the study, said, “As the training program developed with my participants their confidence grew and they were keen to tell me how family members had emailed back, Skyped or ‘liked’ a comment or a picture on Facebook. Seeing the smiles on my participant’s faces when they Skyped a family member in the UK or abroad was such a special moment.

“One of the best Skype calls was during a visit to my caravan in Cornwall when I Skyped a client who used to enjoy camping. We were around the camp fire and he was able to be a part of our group from the laptop, looking at the fire and joining in. They all know that I am only an email or Skype call away and it has been fabulous being a part of the Ages 2.0 project.”

Those behind the Ages 2.0 study hope its findings will help inform future policy on digital inclusion and the delivery of tele-health and tele-care strategies.

Is there a right way to Grieve


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Current understandings of grief has shifted away from looking at grief as a continuous upward process through stages and instead looks to how individuals integrate loss into their lives. In the following description, we see how misperceptions of grief can be a hindrance for people, as the expectations of moving through grief are often unrealistic. With these misperceptions, when grief doesn’t move forward, people often get increasing anxious and concerned, and a vicious cycle begins. In the bereavement group I co-run, we had a person attend who shared she hadn’t cried for her husband for many months and worried something was wrong. We discussed how tears come for people at different times and in different situations. In a subsequent meeting, she shared that she had finally cried, as she was no longer trying to force herself to shed tears, the tears came.

Getting Grief Right

By PATRICK O’MALLEY JANUARY 10, 2015 1:16 PM January 10, 2015 1:16 pm

By the time Mary came to see me, six months after losing her daughter to sudden infant death syndrome, she had hired and fired two other therapists. She was trying to get her grief right.

Mary was a successful accountant, a driven person who was unaccustomed to being weighed down by sorrow. She was also well versed in the so-called stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. To her and so many others in our culture, that meant grief would be temporary and somewhat predictable, even with the enormity of her loss. She expected to be able to put it behind her and get on with her life.

To look at her, she already had done so. The mask she wore for the world was carefully constructed and effective. She seemed to epitomize what many people would call “doing really well,” meaning someone who had experienced a loss but looked as if she was finished grieving. Within a few days of the death of her daughter she was back at work and seemed to function largely as before.

The truth of her life was something else. Six months after her baby’s death she remained in deep despair. She was exhausted from acting better than she felt around co-workers, friends and family. As is so often the case, she had diagnosed her condition as being “stuck” in grief, believing that a stubborn depression was preventing her from achieving acceptance and closure.

Was she in denial, she wondered. She also wondered if she was appropriately angry. The bottom line was that she knew she was depressed — a psychiatrist had prescribed an antidepressant — and that is what she wanted me to treat.

Earlier in my practice, I would have zeroed in on that depression. Was there a family history? Had she been depressed before? Was the medicine helping? What were her specific symptoms? Knowing the answers might suggest why she was stuck. Or I would have reviewed the stages of grief, as she had, looking for one in which the work remained incomplete.

But I had begun to operate differently by the time Mary showed up, which was 10 years after my own loss. My firstborn child had also died before he was a year old. It was why Mary had chosen me.

In our first session I put Mary’s depression aside. I asked her to tell me the story of her baby rather than describe the symptoms of her grief. Though she was resistant, she eventually started to talk.

Like most other things in Mary’s life, the baby, whom she named Stephanie, was planned. Mary was delighted with her pregnancy and had wonderful dreams for her daughter. After a routine delivery, Mary stayed home with Stephanie for the first three months. Returning to work had been difficult, but Mary was comfortable with the child-care arrangement, and managed to balance motherhood with her busy professional schedule.

Then Mary told me about the Saturday when she went to check on her napping daughter and found that Stephanie wasn’t breathing. She began C.P.R. as her husband called 911. There were moments of surreal focus as she and her husband tried to save their baby. Then this woman, so accustomed to being in control, had to surrender her daughter to an emergency crew. Her husband drove as they followed the ambulance to the hospital.

She described the waiting room in great detail, down to the color of the furniture. When the hospital chaplain walked in with the doctor she knew her baby was gone. She and her husband were taken into a room where they held the baby for the last time.

At this point in her story Mary finally began to weep, intensely so. She seemed surprised by the waves of emotion that washed over her. It was the first time since the death that the sadness had poured forth in that way. She said she had never told the story of her daughter from conception to death in one sitting.

“What is wrong with me?” she asked as she cried. “It has been almost seven months.”

Very gently, using simple, nonclinical words, I suggested to Mary that there was nothing wrong with her. She was not depressed or stuck or wrong. She was just very sad, consumed by sorrow, but not because she was grieving incorrectly. The depth of her sadness was simply a measure of the love she had for her daughter.

A transformation occurred when she heard this. She continued to weep but the muscles in her face relaxed. I watched as months of pent-up emotions were released. She had spent most of her energy trying to figure out why she was behind in her grieving. She had buried her feelings and vowed to be strong because that’s how a person was supposed to be.

Now, in my office, stages, self-diagnoses and societal expectations didn’t matter. She was free to surrender to her sorrow. As she did, the deep bond with her little girl was rekindled. Her loss was now part of her story, one to claim and cherish, not a painful event to try to put in the past.

I had gone through the same process after the loss of my son. I was in my second year of practice when he died, and I subsequently had many grieving patients referred to me. The problem in those early days was that my grief training was not helping either my patients or me. When I was trained, in the late 1970s, the stages of grief were the standard by which a grieving person’s progress was assessed.

THAT model is still deeply and rigidly embedded in our cultural consciousness and psychological language. It inspires much self-diagnosis and self-criticism among the aggrieved. This is compounded by the often subtle and well-meaning judgment of the surrounding community. A person is to grieve for only so long and with so much intensity.

To be sure, some people who come to see me exhibit serious, diagnosable symptoms that require treatment. Many, however, seek help only because they and the people around them believe that time is up on their grief. The truth is that grief is as unique as a fingerprint, conforms to no timetable or societal expectation.

Based on my own and my patients’ experiences, I now like to say that the story of loss has three “chapters.” Chapter 1 has to do with attachment: the strength of the bond with the person who has been lost. Understanding the relationship between degree of attachment and intensity of grief brings great relief for most patients. I often tell them that the size of their grief corresponds to the depth of their love.

Chapter 2 is the death event itself. This is often the moment when the person experiencing the loss begins to question his sanity, particularly when the death is premature and traumatic. Mary had prided herself on her ability to stay in control in difficult times. The profound emotional chaos of her baby’s death made her feel crazy. As soon as she was able, she resisted the craziness and shut down the natural pain and suffering.

Chapter 3 is the long road that begins after the last casserole dish is picked up — when the outside world stops grieving with you. Mary wanted to reassure her family, friends and herself that she was on the fast track to closure. This was exhausting. What she really needed was to let herself sink into her sadness, accept it.

When I suggested a support group, Mary rejected the idea. But I insisted. She later described the relief she felt in the presence of other bereaved parents, in a place where no acting was required. It was a place where people understood that they didn’t really want to achieve closure after all. To do so would be to lose a piece of a sacred bond.

“All sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them,” said the writer Isak Dinesen. When loss is a story, there is no right or wrong way to grieve. There is no pressure to move on. There is no shame in intensity or duration. Sadness, regret, confusion, yearning and all the experiences of grief become part of the narrative of love for the one who died.

Patrick O’Malley is a psychotherapist in Fort Worth.

This is an essay from Couch, a series about psychotherapy at Some details have been altered to protect patient privacy.