Successful Aging: Is This a Beneficial Term?

by Megan Ferguson

Successful Aging
Successful Aging

Since the 1960’s, there has been an increased attention towards positive discourses of aging.  This dialogue strives to promote active, healthy, positive and productive aging; however, are these realistic goals?  While  successful aging may be attainable for some individuals, it may not be for others who have been struck with diseases that limit their abilities to support these aging ideals.  However, as social workers, we must not completely eliminate successful aging, but take a critical approach in adapting this term to extend beyond the goal of postponing old age.

In addition, by solely focusing on delaying old age, professionals are in fact subordinating older adults that are not aging successfully based on our personal assumptions, expectations and definitions of what growing older should entail.  In a way, we are pigeonholing individuals and not allowing them to be individuals with unique ways of living their lives.

Much emphasis is also placed on individual responsibility of aging and postponing old age as well.  People are constantly surrounded by advertisements and messages for beauty products, supplements and medical treatments that promote successful aging.  However, holding an individual accountable for how they age can be problematic, as this blames the aging individual.  Although this may be true, I do not want to “sugar-coat” that an individual has no responsibility in how they age, as aging is dependent on how one treats their body.

However, my goal in this statement is to highlight that social workers must engage in a paradigm shift from an emphasis on individual responsibility of aging to a balanced prototype of aging. Aging is dependent on personal health practices as well as other determinants of health such as income and social status, gender, culture and early childhood development.  All of these factors thus may lead to “successful” or  “unsuccessful” aging.

With a tendency to dissociate aging and disease, emphasize delaying old age and blame victims of “unsuccessful” aging, it is evident that the term, successful aging has limitations.  However, a temporary solution may be to incorporate this term in practice through a person-centered approach to successful aging.  Personal, social, economic and environmental factors all determine the health status of individuals and therefore, individuals have different opinions regarding what they view as being important to their personal health.  Therefore, it may be beneficial to become increasingly mindful of different perspectives of successful aging when working with individuals.  The term successful aging is quite ambiguous; therefore, it is only beneficial when we take into account the different personal definitions of the term.

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50 Years Later The War on Poverty Continues

Homelessness in America

50 years after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a War on Poverty, the US continues to struggle in the fight against poverty. However, recent legislative decisions would not lean towards alleviating poverty for the 15% + of Americans living below the poverty line today. With food stamp surplus monies cut in November, and Unemployment Benefits ending for 1.3 million Americans next month, times are hard and it doesn’t seem as if there will be relief anytime soon.

According to the New York Times:

“Without the panoply of government benefits — like food stamps, subsidized school lunches and the earned-income tax credit, which provides extra money to household heads earning low wages — the nation’s poverty rate last year would have reached almost 31 percent, up from 25 percent in 1967, according to the research at Columbia.”

The way that we socially define poverty changes as society changes. If we were to compare ourselves now to families living in the 1960s- we’d be very wealthy indeed.  However, the formula for the “poverty threshold” has not changed since 1963 as stated in a recent article by the Wall Street Journal.

This formula assumes that the cost of food will make up 1/3 of a family’s expenses. That is not at all true today, when food costs are an average of 1/5 of a family’s expenses and housing costs are creeping over 50%.

As the Wall Street Journal mentions:

“Today [the poverty threshold], it falls short. It fails to account for noncash benefits such as food stamps; for changing expenditure patterns that have shifted the poor’s burden from food to medical expenses and housing; and for regional variation that makes a dollar go further in the rural South than, say, in New York.”

The threshold is updated annually to account for inflation- but that is the only change made to the formula in over 50 years.

Just about everyone agrees that the formula is outdated and does not reflect an appropriate measure of poverty. But finding a solution that appeases bipartisan legislators is difficult. The cost of raising the poverty line to a number that adequately reflects the state of poverty in the US would increase the total number of persons eligible for government assistance by 1% (i.e.the total number of persons in poverty would be 16.1%, up from the 15% quoted above).

What are the long term effects of hiding the number of poor in this country behind an outdated formula, and what will it mean for our country?

What Feelings Are In Your Heart: An Art Therapy Exercise for Kids

Art therapy is an extension to talk therapy which may be helpful in the exploration of one’s feeling through visual expression in the absence of words. One of my favorite worksheets for kids that I’ve made is called “Feelings Heart”. The objective of this intervention is to allow children to develop vocabulary and identification of feelings to promote healthy expression of emotion. This exercise also serves as an open ended question about how the child views their world at the moment. It can also be used as an assessment tool and progress can be tracked by repeating the exercise and recording and comparing results.

Feelings Heart j.001


The way I use this exercise is to explain that everyone has feelings or emotions and this is normal. I explain that there is no right or wrong way to do this exercise. I help the child brainstorm and list the emotions they can think of and suggest some that may be missing from their lexicon. If a child is particularly hesitant, I may also do a feelings heart along with them or include a parent for modeling.

Using crayons, colored pencils, or markers, I have the child choose what colors match each emotion for them. For example, angry might be red or sad might be blue. Then the child colors in how much of their heart is feeling that emotion right now.

This information is then used as a conversation starter. I have also used this in family sessions as a way to promote communication of feelings.

Here’s a completed feelings heart that I’ve done as an example:

feelings heart completed

According to,

“While children can often benefit from therapy, especially if they have mental health problems or disabilities, they may find it scary or difficult to properly express themselves in a clinical setting. This is particularly true for young children who generally have limited vocabularies and those that don’t speak the primary language in the country where they live. In addition to or in lieu of standard therapy methods, kids can use art to communicating their thoughts and feelings to the adults who want to help them deal with their life challenges.

Art therapy is a psychotherapy wherein patients use art in varying ways. The most common way is to escape from the stress of illness or disability. It is also used as a symbolic language. With the help of the therapist, the child deciphers the meaning of the picture and discusses the underlying issues that inspired the artwork. No matter how it is used, art therapy can be a creative outlet for children struggling with the circumstances of their lives.” Read Full Article

Venting about Politics by Stephanie Cianfriglia

by Stephanie Cianfriglia and a recent BSW graduate from Keuka College 

Things that have been in the news lately have had me feeling very frustrated.

I am getting tired of seeing all of the shootings and nothing getting done. The media, our government, come out together to talk about “the tragedy of” (pick one: the Sikh temple, Aurora, in Washington DC at the FRC) but nothing gets done. Legislation never changes as our Congress remains in partisan blocks. Our government maintains that having 2nd amendment rights, and upholding them, seem to be more important than saving lives or preventing deadly weapons from ending up in the hands of the mentally ill. (And the fact that guns policy is argued over with so much more fervor than mental health policy is also disheartening.) Then the NEXT shooting happens and it happens all over again.

And then, I cannot even BEGIN to wrap my head around what Missouri Rep. Todd Akin was thinking when he made his remarks about pregnancy and “legitimate rape.” Meanwhile, our new potential VP, Paul Ryan, and his party in the Senate are seeking to change rape abortion laws so that only victims of “forcible” rape can receive abortions if pregnant. This would officially exclude cases of incest rape, MR/DD women who could not consent to sex, statutory rape, etc. Although most have condemned him for his remarks, there are some other outspoken right-wingers who are defending him with a similar reckless sexism. Just look at this from Twitter:

@BrianFischer: What Akin meant by “legitimate rape:” actual forcible rape, not consensual sex that later gets called rape. Come on, people.

(Fischer recently condoned the kidnapping of children of gay parents, calling it an “Underground Railroad.”)

Where does it end? If women are doubted after being raped, what does that leave men who are? I have a good friend, a MALE friend, who experienced two violent sexual assaults. Seeing this dismissive attitude against rape makes me think we will keep on going backwards. If women lie about rape, than men just do not get raped at all.

But what frustrates me the most is the word association that seems to be occurring in our vitriol-fueled political atmosphere. Our titles make us enemies. I am liberal, therefore I am “a sissy,” is what is sometimes expressed. “Conservative men are REAL men.” “Liberals lack common sense.” “Liberals are against freedom.” I feel as if being a proud social worker becomes a good laugh, I’m another one of “those” people. Once, on Twitter, under the hashtag #WhatMightAnnoyALiberal, a man said that if poverty disappeared, Democrats would “lose their platform.” As if poverty was something that exists only for political gain, and it is being enabled for that reason. I found that quite sick. This was coming from a US Veteran.

I do not like these titles. I do not like anyone who shows open ignorance and hatred in a public forum. I just am growing tired of the political games and gaffes I keep seeing. I am tired of nothing getting done. Yet it makes me want to work harder so that the smallest change can occur. It’s the only way change happens, and small victories are, indeed, still victories.

Letter to the Aspiring Social Worker

I don’t claim to know about all things social work, but I have learned some life lessons along the way that have shaped who I am, my faith, and my desire to help others. Do we choose this profession or does it choose us? I believe that everyone who enters the social work profession do so because of something in their background that enrages that desire to change injustices, speak up for those without a voice, and/or inject compassion into an otherwise heartless society.

As I reflect on my journey, there are several things I couldn’t have moved forward without, and there are several changes older me wish I had the insight to make. For the aspiring social worker and the new social worker, I will be sharing throughout this post several mantras that I have used to guide my path over the years. It’s when I ignored my compass that I found myself learning another life lesson. Here are a few of the most important ones.

Lesson One-“If you want to know where you are going, look at your friends”

No matter if you are 13 years old or 45 years old, this mantra should guide you for the rest of your life. This mantra is powerful because it will determine the most powerful influences and the direction of your life for the rest of your life. You can substitute friends for peers, coworkers, or membership groups. Who you choose to align yourself with will influence your belief system, your work ethics, your ideas, and your actions. It will affect your ability to collaborate, share ideas, and information especially when there is no personal benefit for yourself.

Lesson Two- “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”

Define the line that you won’t cross. Find your moral compass. Identify the part of you that draws you to this profession. What are you most passionate about? AND Who do you feel the most compassion for? DETERMINE: What are you willing to do to advance or get ahead? What are you willing to ignore or overlook? Who has value in this society according to your standards? Are those who are suffering and poor to blame for their own problems? No Social Worker is immune from having prejudices and biases against individuals or groups of people. The failure to acknowledge this human deficiency will determine whether you are an advocate or an oppressor.

Lesson Three-“When two or more stand together and agree”

Social Work is not like running track,  playing tennis, or riding equestrian. Social Work is not an individual sport. Whether you choose to go into private practice, Child Welfare, health care, or any other area of practice, you must remain connected to other like minded individuals working together and with others.  I believe the reason why so many social workers experience burnout is because it feels like a solo fight against a system that’s to big to change.  Our separation and isolation from other professions begin in college. When do you interact with education majors, sociology, public health, criminal justice and so forth. Guess what? You are going to have to interact with other professions in the workforce! Why not start now while you are in college? Start a community service project and invite the other student groups from different majors to participate.

Why should social work students take the lead? ANSWER: The Social Work profession is the only profession that is designed to help people improve the quality of their lives on a biological, social, and psychological perspective. Give this some thought…..Let that statement marinate.

In physics, pushing up against a wall that does not move fails to meet the definition of work. If the wall does not move, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend pushing because no distance can be measured.  Instead of spending our time pushing up against walls, let’s align ourselves with people who can work with us to take the wall down brick by brick or at least enough to go around it.

Also View:
Resources for Students Considering a Career in Social Work

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