Understanding Middle Adulthood Lifespan Development Through a Cultural Lens
4:08PM Sep 11, 2023
Kelly Coker, PhD
Margaret Lamar, PhD
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Welcome to the thoughtful counselor. I'm Margaret Lamar. And today I am here with Dr. Kelly Coker. I'm so thrilled to have her as we finish out our series on lifespan development. And so I'm also excited just to get to know you better. Dr. Coker. So hope was hoping you could start by talking about your journey to becoming a counselor and an educator and to wherever you find yourself in the profession now.
Well, thank you so much, Margaret, it's really exciting for me to be here with you and continue this conversation. And I'm really appreciative of the thoughtful counselor for making space to kind of cover what has become, for me a real area of interest, even though it wasn't always that way. I started in the field as a drug prevention and intervention counselor in the schools, I worked in a very small school district in rural Western North Carolina. The kids referred to me as the drug lady, I had an office in the front part of the in school suspension trailer at the high school, which happened to be right next to what was called the skipping trail where kids would like skip class and go smoke pot. So it was it was a really interesting and sort of awkward configuration for me to start my journey as a professional counselor. But I learned a ton. So I got to be involved with education. So I worked with teachers and administrators, I got to do classroom guidance around, you know, drug information sessions and prevention and family roles in addicted families. And I also worked with kids who sometimes as young as middle school, sadly, who were directly impacted with substance abuse, either within their families or their own use. Had some recovery groups for kids in high school. And so you know, it was it was a fascinating way to start learning about the role development plays in somebody's experience, but also how important their context, their culture, their background. And really kind of the tools that they start with, you know how well they're equipping them to navigate that that difficult time period of adolescence is so I did that for a number of years and honestly didn't have education or counselor education in my mind as something that I wanted to do. You're Margaret, you're a career development theorist. So you'll you'll appreciate this. I always think that my professional journey is like crumbles happenstance theory, where I started dating a dude who lived in Greensboro, North Carolina, I couldn't find a school counseling job. They had a counselor education program, that even at the time I didn't realize was a nationally recognized program. It was just conveniently located. So I applied and got in and started my journey to being a counselor, educator and found I really liked the research, which was unexpected. I enjoyed my dissertation process, sort of where I got to focus on factors that guard against problem drinking for adolescents. And then when I graduated and got my first job as a counselor, education counselor educator at UNLV. I worked in a school counselor training program and worked with school counselors on the ground and developed a prevention program out of my research. So it was sort of a fun full circle from my early work as a clinician doing my work in my doctoral training and then my early work as a counselor educator.
Great lots of twists and turns And I can identify with that journey to being a counselor educator of like, well, I'm here, I guess I'll do this. Why not? So talk to me about how you became interested in human development as a field of study?
Yeah, that's a great question. And if I'm honest, human development itself as a field of study wasn't really on the forefront of my mind for a long time in my work. And it really probably started for me as an interest area when I started at Palo Alto University, and around 2017, I was asked to be a course lead or somebody who managed the curriculum for the lifespan development course. And as you know, and anybody listening to this knows, if you've gone through your training to be a counselor, or a counselor, educator, lifespan development is just part of that process. It's a content area for CACREP. And really any helping profession, whether it's psychology or social work, everybody has a course or some training in lifespan development. So I took over this course as a course lead. And I started looking at textbooks and materials and curriculum. And I just found that process really frustrating. I couldn't find a textbook that either wasn't, in my estimation, kind of dry, and just focused on the theories and the theorists as if they were fact. Or you could sometimes find interesting textbooks where it sort of swung the other way. And they really talked more just about like systems and context, which was really interesting. But then they didn't really cover the theories that we know students actually need to know when they graduate to pass their licensure exams. So I had already started working on a book, or had done a book with Springer publishing, and was talking to one of the editors about other ideas, and she brought up human development. And at first, I was kind of only mildly interested, even though I'd been teaching the class and trying to make it were interesting. But then I started talking to two of my co authors, Christy and silvitra. And we started getting excited about it, because they both had taught lifespan development. And we really just said, you know, so much more could be done with this than is already being done. And we also started thinking about how is this actually important to future clinicians? If we sort of separate out that, oh, you need to memorize some theories and theorists and dates, to pass a licensure exam? And we really dug into? How do How am I as a therapist better, because I understand us and integrate theories of development. And then we realize that's the book that we want to write, that's the book that we feel kind of fills this niche, you know, how can future clinicians actually and actively apply this information in work with clients, and not just dates and old dead white guys and names of theories to memorize. And so it was really that thinking about it being integrative, being contextually bound, and then also culturally driven. And those layers just were very exciting to me and to us. So that's really kind of where it started. And I can talk a little bit later if this if this helps to, it's not just informed the way I thought about theories as I wrote this book with my co authors, but really also, I'm doing some things differently now in my own clinical work with clients, because I think having been involved in this project and having this sort of new newer interest in human development.
Oh, yes, I can't. Yeah, well, I'm I was thinking, oh, I want to know now. But let's talk about your area. First, what you focused on for development. So if I remember correctly, it was you did middle adulthood, and then also focused on older adulthood. So can you start with middle adulthood? And maybe this is my own personal curiosity to figure out a fire fall have fallen into that phase? I'm thinking yes, that's probably the answer. But what how do you define middle adulthood?
Yeah, no, it's a great question. So So again, the interesting thing about studying theories of development is that the if we think about ages, the ages within which these different stages are bound also continue to morph and change. So back when Erickson who is one of the primary theorists who talked about Development and beyond adolescence actually talked about young adults and middle adults and older adults. Back when Erickson was first working on his theories and doing things in the, you know, 60s and 70s, you know, he would talk about middle adulthood, maybe being somewhere between, say, 40 and 6045 and 65, right? Well, the more we think about middle adulthood as its own stage of development, the more that sort of age constraint contracts and expands back in the day 65 would be considered older adulthood, right? I mean, I remember when my grandparents were in their 60s, I thought they were ancient that right an old person, to me, right now, 65 really kind of still falls in what we think of as middle adulthood. So, you know, 40, ish to 65 ish seems to be kind of an accepted range, but it can, it can also shift because the stage isn't just about the age you're in, it's also about what's happening contextually in your life. And that also helps us to define it. And, you know, for me, when we were sort of slicing and dicing, who's gonna write what in the book, and we were really the four of us, it's silvitra. And Christy and Karen and I, would we looked at the different ages and stages, we sort of started with what are you interested in? What do you want to do, and I really wanted to do middle adulthood. And I think part of the reason for me is that my early clinical work that I described to you, you know, really was focused on kids and adolescents. And I felt like that was an area that I'd done a lot of research on and exploration about already. And of course, the other thing that was happening, selfishly, for me is that I personally am in this stage of middle adulthood. So I knew just from some of my own experiences, there's so much happening at this stage of life. And we don't know a lot about it from the writing and from the research, you know, so really looking at what are those developmental developmental milestones that appear in middle adulthood that are unique to this phase of life? And what are things that happened to us in middle adulthood that really aren't talked about, you don't see it in the literature, at least in the literature around, you know, the counseling literature and some of the psychology literature or even the developmental literature. So looking at things like when middle adults have children, and going through that experience of the empty nest, launching their kids, or when middle adult, particularly women go through physical changes like menopause, and how that impacts them, not just physically, physically, not just sexually, but emotionally and psychologically, and looking at being in the sandwich generation as middle adults where, because our parents are living longer and longer, we may find ourselves in that caregiver role for our parents or other older relatives, while we might still be caring for kids at home, or getting ready to launch them, so we so there's all kinds of ways that our identities in middle adulthood kind of gets turned on its head. And for me, that was also really exciting, because what it tells us is that a lot is still happening. We're still developing, we're still growing, we're still learning. We're still establishing new identities. You know, the, the idea of aging starts to come into play for the first time, you know, you start to notice things you didn't notice I wrote about this in my chapter. My sister and I, she's four years younger than I we did a ski trip with our kids a couple of years ago. And she and I, we have always been like awesome skiers, we've skied our whole lives, you know, we can we can really shred. But we were on this ski trip in Utah. And we were feeling it. We were feeling it in our hips. We were filling it in our knees. I was completely out of breath. After two runs. We had to take multiple breaks during the day. And it was we just have this conversation about this dissonance that happens between in my head I still am exactly as I was. It's a 25 role. But my body just is not going to get on board with that. So the whole aspect of the complexity of middle adulthood middle adulthood was something that I just really wanted to dig into.
Yeah, that's so interesting. I just, I mean, just I think, going through my life, Human Development lifespan development In education, you kind of get the sense that like, you know, the real important stuff happens when you're younger. And not that that's not still accurate. But it's sort of like once you hit 25, or that you're out of that sort of, you know, that looking for, for love and a partner, like, then you're just kind of coasting until the end, until you get to the very end. And you have that like, generativity, and you kind of look back and you say, What am I done with my life, but that there's sort of this like, middle space, that just feels like it's flat. I don't know. And maybe that's a bad memory of that. But I, I love hearing you talk about all of these things that are still happening. I think for myself, I'm definitely in the middle adulthood phase of my life. And, you know, especially like, as my kids get older, I think I thought like, oh, things will slow down, and they'll feel kind of calmer, and just personally, I'll feel just sort of, like I've hit my stride. But I mean, it feels like I'm ramping up to on a roller coaster that's about to take off. I mean, I can just sense this, like, we're in this moving happening, busy stage of our lives. And it's not just about our kids getting bigger, it's also just, it feels like for us like we're we are still kind of moving and, and growing in ways that that sort of continue to surprise me, I think, to your point that we don't really talk about that as much.
Well, and it's such a what you're describing, and what I really kind of got into in writing these chapters on middle adulthood, is it there's so much redefinition, and I know that happens all throughout our lives, of course, that you know, even if you just think about those, those pieces you just addressed, you know, as your kids, as your two kids, just every agent stage that they go through in their own development is going to have a almost a symbiotic effect on you and your husband's age and stage of how because you are constantly having to reorganize around where they are. And that redefinition is of our lives as well as theirs, you know, when I have one son, and when he went to college, I remember I mean, you know, of course you hear about oh, empty nest, and you have half people saying oh my gosh, you're gonna love it so much when your kid leaves, you're just gonna have a whole new lease on life. And then other people are like, Oh, my gosh, it's just the hardest transition. And, you know, so we didn't really know what to expect. But I remember, he had been gone for about a week and my husband and I walked by his bedroom, you know, the door was open, and, and we just sort of paused and looked at it. And my husband Bill said, This feels like a death. And I was like, Oh, it really does. I mean, and I hadn't thought about it that way. And no one had ever said that to me. And it almost felt wrong to say that like, Oh, you're not supposed to think about that he's fine. He's four hours away, and living the good life as a freshman in college. But it really solidified for me what it means to have these people in your home under foot every minute, every day, for 18 years, and then just not. And then the ripple effect on how we looked at our relationship as a couple. You know, what do you now do with each other when it isn't all about getting your kid to taekwondo or chorus or, you know, whatever, when you're not just talking about how's he doing in school and his grades and, you know, so there's redefinition there as well. So it just again, to me is such a fascinating time. And like you said, it doesn't slow. It's there is no coasting. And I think you're right, I think the way, you know, the theory theory of development would be laid out, like, Oh, here's a whole bunch of ways to look at what happens in early childhood. And as our kids move into adolescence, and even now, understanding that there's this sort of phase probably between adolescence and adulthood, this emerging adulthood that our net talks about that seems really important. But then after that, it is sort of this dead space. So, you know, really taking the time to dig into even if we're going to talk about generativity versus stagnation, that how do we do that in a way that's not two dimensional? You know, how do we really unpack what for somebody from a particular cultural background, or with a particular family history or a particular contextual experience? How do we really unpack how generativity looks for them or stagnation looks for them? And then how is that useful to help them in counseling, for example,
and sometimes I know I'm wondering if maybe the reason that we have That sense of feeling, you know, like, we are forever young like, oh, I don't feel like I'm in my 40s I don't feel like this. It's because of the idea that we have, like, you know, you go, go, go, go go, and then all of a sudden you kind of hit your you hit adulthood, and then you know, it's just, you're good. And so we don't anticipate that sense of still kind of moving and changing. And
absolutely, yeah, I think that's so true. And you
also I know, have done some work around just speaking of the empty nest thing. So I wondered if there was an intersection here. You've also done some work around mother's identities around in so I wonder how much that kind of wraps up for you the mother's identity as empty nester how much that sort of fits into all of this work you've done around middle adulthood development?
Yes, such a great question, and very much. So it was sort of a good a good progression of things that happened, around the same time that I was sort of finishing up this really interesting qualitative study with a group of amazing women, all of us moms, which, of course, often drives our research interests, right? Because she's sort of right what you know, you know about this, but mothering identity stuff. And for us, it really, that was exactly the question, we wanted to ask these women, we wanted to talk to women who were at that time of launch, either they had a kid, they were about to launch in one way or another, whatever that meant to them, or a kid who was already recently out of the house. And what we asked them was to reflect on themselves at each of their child's stage of development, you know, with the backward glance that full backward glance, and then to talk about where they felt they were now in their identity development as a mom, to older adolescent or an emerging adult kid. And so much of what came out of that research, and I actually wrote about it, because one of the things we did in the textbook is we created, we really tried to create these very comprehensive case studies, of you know, a fictional person or client that we could anchor our discussion of contexts and culture and theories to across the truth two chapters. So for me, you know, my, my fictional person I wrote about Ellen, she has a one son, who was getting ready to graduate from college. So so much of what I really tried to focus on for her was, how is she thinking about? Who am I now to this person? And who now is this person to me, because when you're the parent of an adult child, or an emerging adult child, you really do have to rethink what the connection looks like with that person. What is the interaction? What influence do you have over their lives? How much do you want to have? I mean, there's so many things you have to reexamine, you know, I used to be a very, when Leah was in high school, super hands on mom, like I, I check his grades every week, you know, and see how he was doing. And I say, Hey, have you signed up? I see here, you have an opportunity to sign up for this thing. Have you done that? So, you know, really kind of in his business a lot, as he would say. And increasingly over these last four years, he's about to graduate from college. It's been interesting for me to loosen those reins, and also to find ways to loosen those reins, but I'm really okay with, you know, that I'm really like, yeah, that's his, he's got this, he can figure it out. Is he doing it the way I would maybe not. But he's doing it, he's doing something. And so you know, I do think that opportunity to do a study where mothers were examining their own identities, with having an adult child and then writing the chapters on middle adulthood was really important. Because I think the other thing about mothers and you can tell me if you think this is true from your research, it's hard for mothers to have these conversations, because they don't know how to talk sometimes about themselves, separate from their children. So even when we were interviewing moms for that study, you reference, we would say, tell us what it was like for you, when your child started middle school. And they would start by saying, well, when he started in middle school, he really struggled with not having a lot of friends. We just say no, no, no, don't talk about him. Talk about you. And that could be really challenging because it's hard to separate those things. And so as middle adults, if your kids are launching, and you know that a lot of your identity has been about being that mom being that dad being a parent. That's another way in which you have to begin to establish some sort of new and different identity.
Yeah, gosh, it's making me think that you had a lot of parallel process going on here. And that you're doing this study, that's, you know, right where you are in your life and your relationship with your kiddo. And then you're doing this chapter about middle adulthood, which you are in. And then you're also doing the older adulthood. Chapter as well looking at studying older adulthood. And so I'm curious about what that was like for you in terms of, you know, what you learned about yourself, where you are, and maybe what you learned about, you know, where you might be going. And also, I know, you have older parents. And so thinking about them, I'm just curious about what that was like for you.
It was honestly, it was wonderful. I mean, I feel like, you know, writing a textbook, in case anybody didn't know, this isn't the most fun thing to do. Because it's a textbook, right? So what I think one of the other reasons, we all decided we really wanted to give each other the room and space, to focus on areas that were really interesting to us, personally, is we wanted, we wanted there to be a personal feel, to the book. And throughout the book, all four of us found opportunities to speak to our own experience. So in some ways, I what I hope is that when people read it, and they read each of the chapters, they will feel that they will feel there's kind of a personal element to this, that we can talk about the stuff you got to know and the research and, but we can also anchor it in some personal experience. So for me, that was super easy with middle adulthood. It's no accident that my middle adult case was a middle aged, middle class white woman with a single son in college. I mean, heck, I'm kind of blatant parallels there, I did give her a little, a little more of an interesting dynamic with being separated from her husband and her mom having to come back and live with her because she'd had an injury. So there were some other layers to it that that weren't me, of course. But it really did help me, I think, to both examine my own experience, but also to really think about it in context. I think for the older adult chapter that I wrote with silvitra, those two chapters, those were actually my favorite chapters to work on. I didn't expect that because I really enjoyed the middle adult chapters. And I'm not quite in that phase of life myself. But like you said, I think both the Vita and I were exactly the same age, we are two months apart in age. And our parents are almost exactly the same age. And we each have one kid who's in college. So we had a lot of pair parallel experiences that we were able to really bring to the table when we wrote the older adulthood chapters. For me working on those chapters that helped uncover for me some of my biases, I think, in how we view older people in western industrialized societies. How a lot of developmental theories have really included this phase of life almost as an afterthought, kind of, like we talked about, even with middle adulthood and how, when you do read theories of older adulthood, they often are characterized by things like, decline. You know, I mean, even looking at the way Erickson focuses on it, integrity versus despair. It's the way Erickson characterizes that phase of older adulthood. It's hard to tell you what, so but so I'm so glad you said that because that's exactly what Savita and I talked about, were like, how do we talk about this phase of development as just another phase of development that just like you've said, what you're seeing in your own life and middle adulthood, you're still moving, you're still trucking, you're still growing, you're still learning. And we know this also happens in older adulthood. So that was really important. There were two theories that I thought were really kind of bubbled up for me with this. Do you mind if I talk about each of them? Really? Please do? Okay, the first one is the theory of human potential. And it's from a theorist named Jean Cohen, and Cohen's theory. He starts with people in their 30s and then goes to 70s 80s and beyond. So first of all, I loved that that he didn't even do what Erickson did. So I'm going to start at birth and go to death. He said, I'm really going to focus on the place that you mentioned, that historically sometimes feels like the, the flat zone for theories. But what he suggested is that people in old age and people, even people in very old age, often experience sort of this newfound creativity. Now, it's sort of predicated on the idea that somebody is fortunate enough to have the means of survival. So there are assumptions we make about this. So of course, assuming someone is sheltered, and said, and reasonably, in good health, they actually can and do make space for being contributed for being creative and contributing to the world in new ways. He did this really cool study, where he, so he had this hypothesis that people who do folk art tend to be older. So whether they're folk musicians, or they're, you know, go into the, the weekend, craft fair, and you know, doing art, whatever, they tend to be older. So in his study, he engaged groups of older adults. He had a control group, and he had a test group and his test group, they were involved in like, active and participatory art classes, and shows and lectures, and they created their own art. And they had a way to sort of share it with the world. And the control group, they did some different activities with them, but nothing art related and nothing quite so engaged in interaction interactive. And he found that even after like a year or two years, when they looked at measures of physical health, emotional health and social engagement, the people who had been actively engaged in the art activities, all of those metrics were higher for them. And he talks about people like, you know, Aldous Huxley, who didn't write roots until he was in his 60s, you know, and Twyla Tharp, who was the, you know, modern dance who did choreography into her 70s and 80s. And he said that there's a generative quality to that work so that when older adults are creative, active, engaged, and when people are interested in what they're doing, and want to learn from them, then all of those other factors tend to tick up. There's less isolation, there's less depression, and even fewer health issues, because the ideas when they're socially active and engaged, that often that involves some kind of movement. So I love Cohen's theory of human potential. And I love even what it's called, because it's focused on middle adults and older adults specifically, and that when there is this recognition of potential, and a tapping into that potential, it can have restorative kinds of outcomes.
Yeah. Oh, that's so interesting. I feel like you are describing my mother Exactly. Because awesome, as she's retired, she has gotten into art. And now she has all these art classes. She travels and goes to mute, you know, like, she was at the Met in New York and took like this a week long class, and it's just become this whole thing. Now. She's always asking for pictures of the kids that she can paint them. And it's just been really fun to watch her develop that it's just such a great thing.
Yeah, my mom's doing the exact same thing. And I think you I think you're so right. And I think it is. And for me, it's thinking about how do we as adult children, to our aging parents, or other relatives that we're close with? How do we support and encourage those kinds of opportunities and activities? And, you know, how do we really take the time to kind of listen and learn from and show interest in you know, I find this happening a lot with my husband, Bill's mom who is at six, and we spent the day with her yesterday. And you know, I really remind myself, you know, because you can get busy with stuff and you can get like you're focused on doing this and doing that and I was helping cook dinner and all this stuff yesterday and she was kind of sitting, petting a dog sitting in a rocking chair in the living room and I just stopped what I was doing. And I went over and I sat down with her and I just started asking her questions because we were there for Easter dinner and I It started asking her about what what were some of your Easter traditions when you were a kid? Like, what did you you all do as a family? And you know, it's not a big deal question is pretty simple. But she just perked up. And she talked and she told stories and, and that kind of thing doesn't take effort. It's not hard to do, you know, and it's for me, it's sort of my learning is just remembering that the, the opportunity to engage and to learn from I have to I want to cherish that while I can with the older people in my life.
Yeah, I love that. You said you had a second theory you wanted to tell us about?
So thank you. So the second theory is again, same old stuff we've been talking about psychosocial theory, Erickson. And you might say, Well, why is that new? The reason I like talking about Erickson with older adults, is we've all heard of Eric Erickson, but Eric's wife, Joan, was actually really involved in his work all along. Theory development. Of course, as is typical, she got no credit, she was never never showed up on any publications until towards the end. And Eric and Joan wrote together a book called The Life Cycle completed. And then Joan kind of did a second version of that. And that was published when she was in her 90s. She lived about 9495, Erik Erikson lived to about 91, he died before she did. But she sort of took the that theory of development and turned it on its head in looking at the old old. And she admitted that when Erik Erikson first came up with it, and especially the the stuff about like, ego integrity versus despair, they were guessing, they didn't really know any old people, they didn't do research on this group, there was nothing really that drove that developmental stage. But what Joan did, and Eric did, too, but she really sort of took it to the next level is she said, You know, I think there's something different happening with the old old. And of course, what she's writing about this, she's living it. So that also, to me feels important. She said, We shouldn't think about these theories of development as like, just a ladder that you go up, up up to the next one. She said, instead, it's like an intricately woven fabric. And that when we get to this latest stage of development, this sort of old old stage, which could be you know, 80s 90s, whatever, that what we might actually do is revisit and reconsider this sort of developmental crisis or task at different stages of development. So as a very old person, you might be dealing with a crisis of say, trust versus mistrust, which is one of the very earliest stages of development, maybe you're in a situation where somebody has to care for you, or you're in a situation where you're in a assisted living or a nursing home, and can you trust the people around you to give you good care. And if you can, then the virtue that you develop, just like the virtue you developed as a little baby, about that is hope that there can be hope that you continue to live a happy, viable and supported life. And she suggested the same thing with all of them, you know, you can, you can revisit crises of doubt and autonomy, or industry versus inferiority, or any of them that are there. But the idea is that at this time, when you're reconciling it, you're integrating it into your whole life experience. So part of what Joan did, I think is a little bit it was a little mind blowing for me, because I've always sort of thought of Erickson's theory is Yeah, we all know it, we all have to talk about it. It's just kind of dry, and it is what it is, but she sort of gave it a depth. I think that I really hadn't experienced with it before. But really just leaving us with sort of that outcome that people in older adulthood, the old, old later in life, their life is still very, very, it's very complex. It is made up of every one of the experiences they've ever had, and the experiences they still have yet to have. And it's probably the the group of folks in our lives that if we took the time to do it, we could learn the most from about everything right. And yet, it's often the group that is the most quickly disenfranchised or dismissed or ignored or thrust into isolation. So I feel like We have a lot to learn about that.
Yeah, you know, it's so interesting too, because I think this is such rich information for us to have as counselors, and I worry about how our profession is somewhat this somewhat moving is not investing, education and training in that area we are, we are still sort of acting like once you get, once you get past that early emerging adulthood, then you're you're kind of good, like, you can just go to some standard CBT therapist or counselor. And that really the work is in those early years, we want to set kids up, right. And so there's so much focus on that, which is not not inherently bad. But I also worry that we've got a generation and coming generations that we don't have counselors trained and feeling comfortable working with. So I know you mentioned earlier, your, your, how this has impacted you clinically, in your work with with clients. So I'm wondering if you can talk about that. And just, I guess, also, where do we see the the needs of in the counseling profession around working with this older population?
Yeah, I think for me, like when I think about myself, as a clinician, I'm the licensed clinical mental health counselor in North Carolina. And right now I have a relatively small tele mental health practice. But I know my retirement plan for myself, is once I sort of move away from counselor education, that that is my retirement plan is to continue to do clinical work and preferably to do clinical work with older adults. And I really credit my work on this book is sort of sort of illuminating that. For me, I think I've been thinking about it for a while, you know, having grandparents who have recently died, and one who had a long battle with Alzheimer's, and then, as you said, having parents myself who are older and moving into that phase, but I think it really sort of concretize for me exactly what you said, this cannot be a forgotten group for us in the profession. And it frustrates me It frustrates me that Kate Krupp, for example, dropped Gerontology as a specialty area. I think those kinds of things are mistakes that signal exactly what you said that are up and coming. New mental health professionals just may not have in the forefront of their brain that this, this can be a really rich, exciting and needed area of clinical specialty and focus. So for me right now, most of my clients right now are interestingly, in middle adulthood. So I only worked with kiddos and adolescents for a long, long time, I now only work with adults, and most of them are middle adults. I have found in probably the last six to eight months, that I talk a lot about development with my clients. I talk a lot about this idea of Who who are you now because I find, you know, if you think about like existential theories, there's such an interesting overlay that I'm still sort of unpacking. So I may not be super clear about this yet. But it's this overlay between an existential approach, and really helping somebody understand where they are developmentally. Because a lot of what we ask those existential questions are really about, who am I? What are the roles in my life? How do those roles play out in different contexts and different changes that occur? And how do they morph and shift? So just like we've been saying all along, it's not that you kind of get through those early stages of development. Now I'm adult and now you just sort of coast and you just kind of do the same thing until you die. That doesn't happen. It continues to change. And so really encouraging clients to hold that mirror up to where they are now and what does it mean for them to kind of be in that space? So for me, you know, like, I have a client who just recently retired and we have been talking about it his whole identity knothole a big part of his identity, work, work, work, work to support that family work to get my kids to college, you know, work so we can have these things in our lives or whatever, you know, so that's been such a big focus. Now that piece is gone. He said, I feel like I've had a tumor removed, because he also recognizes that for him work. There were problems with him having that be He's such a focus of his identity. So now that that piece is gone, how does he redefined generativity? What does it mean? How does he not become stagnant? You know, what does it so we actually talk about those concepts and put them on the table in front of us. So it really is just sort of a way to kind of broaden the scope of exploration with clients is just to talk about it. I talked, I talked to him about supers career development theory and the the career rainbow, right. And he that really resonated for him because so much of his life was about work. So I think as counselors, when we learn theories that we use to guide techniques or theories about something like career development, or lifespan or human development. What we can also remember is, these aren't just things that we need to know kind of in the background. So that we're thinking about like, Oh, I wonder if generativity versus stagnation is at play way back here in my brain, we can take them and put them on the table and work with them with our clients, and see how they connect to those ideas. How meaningful are they to them? And how does that help them reshape and redefine where they are? Because I think it also gives some, just some understanding to clients that it's normal, that wherever they are in their lives, they might be experiencing transition, or upheaval, or questioning who they are, what they're supposed to be doing. And that from a developmental perspective, that's exactly what you should be doing. That's totally right on target. So bringing that into the conversation has, I think really helped me be better at meeting clients where they are?
Yeah, it seems like it also to makes the counseling process less mysterious and more transparent. Why, like, we're not holding all this information, but that it's a really collaborative process of like, let me hear your let me hear, let me teach you this stuff. What do you think about it? How does it fit for you? And just makes that or, you know, really equals out that power differential? A whole lot more?
Yeah, completely agree. And for me, it's sort of the way I think we really tried to talk about the theories and the context and the culture. In this book, I really tried to talk to those students who are going to be the mental health professionals exactly in that way, think about how you can use this. And so even our case studies, we tried to include, like interactions between our fictional client and some kind of mental health provider in everyone. And so that was really helpful for me too, because I had to put myself in the therapists seat to say, how do I talk to a client about where they are developmentally in the context of their presenting issue? And so that was also a fun part of it. You know, that it? It isn't just that secret thing in the background? Do you use this stuff? And it's important?
Yeah. Well, I am very excited for this book to come out, have it pre ordered. I think this middle and older adulthood, as I've heard you all talk about it now, a couple of times is some of the stuff that gets me the most excited. Also, we didn't focus as much on this today. But in our, in our podcast with all of you, we talked a lot more about the cultural and contextual piece of development as well, which is really fascinating. So I'm very excited to see this work and learn more from you and hope you'll continue writing and and in educating us about this lifespan development process.
Well, thank you so much, Margaret. We'll probably take a little break from writing, but we are already thinking about our next edition. So what would be different but again, I really appreciate the opportunity to to chat with you about this because I'm, I'm sold I'm sold now on the importance of lifespan development in our work with clients.
Great you've sold me to Well, thank you so much for being here today, Dr. Carter.
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