Centering Resilience: An Opportunity for Care Providers During PrideBy Seasons | June 01, 2021
This post comes from our partners at SAGE, which provides advocacy and services for LGBT elders.
This year's theme for Older Americans Month was "Communities of Strength."
In their public launch, the Administration of Community Living noted that "older adults have built resilience and strength over their lives through successes, failures, joys, and difficulties. Their stories and contributions help to support and inspire others."
I agree, and as we move into our second year of socially-distanced LGBT Pride celebrations, we have the opportunity to focus on the stories and contributions of LGBT older people.
As a cultural competency trainer and advocate, my job is to raise awareness about LGBT aging. As a group, LGBT older people may face unique challenges and forms of discrimination. This should be balanced with a discussion of how LGBT communities develop strength and resilience as ways to thrive and support one another.
Resilience is an important concept to avoid treating people as only victims, and instead, treat everyone as unique individuals with both weaknesses and strengths. I think this need for balance and desire to foreground older people's strength is behind the critical work of centering resilience.
What I want to say this Pride is that we should remember that nobody is born resilient.
We become resilient from facing challenges and overcoming difficulties. Even the strongest people have days when they cannot get by without help, when they feel exhausted, when they do not feel resilient. Resilience is not a resource to be tapped or something that we can always activate. What does this imply for our work as providers, and how can we honor resilience in ways that are grounded in sensitivity to each person? Here are my suggestions:
1. Speak and act alongside one another, never for another person.
We all encounter moments when we need another person's help, and speaking personally, nothing is worse than a well-intentioned advocate deciding for me, rather than with me. As providers, we might have a strong opinion about what someone should want, say, or do - but it's our job to help our clients or patients accomplish their goals and speak their truths. Ask yourself: how can I help to amplify the voices and perspectives of LGBT older people in my work?
2. Listen, listen, listen.
LGBT older people might be reticent to disclose their identities or use euphemisms to see if you are trustworthy. Listen carefully to how people describe themselves, their story, and their relationships – then reflect that language back to them. If someone mentions a friend or roommate, ask genuine and appropriate questions about their friend or roommate. Reflecting that language helps to build trust, and can help keep our assumptions in check.
3. Recognize that we are more resilient some days than others.
You might work with a patient who never complains and is perfectly stoic, and then one day they can hardly get themselves out of bed or into your office. These are difficult times, and many LGBT people are reliving the trauma of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, historical stigma, and are isolated. We all need some extra grace these days. As providers, we can't always predict how our patients or residents will be on any given day, and that's okay. What matters is how we respond.
4. Have fun.
Pride parades and celebrations are born out of a legacy of struggle and protest – and they are also a lot of fun. Few things form positive rapport and trust faster than laughter, so don't be shy to be friendly, warm, genuine, and to have fun. This tone might not be appropriate for all of your interactions, but at the end of the day, we are all craving connection. Every visit, even a short check-in, is an opportunity to make someone feel heard and important. Nobody has ever described a Pride celebration as "cold" or "clinical," so let's bring some of that warmth into our work.
I want us to keep our eyes on celebrating strength and resilience, and recognize that these attributes are often hard-won traits. I know this will help us continue to see one another for the individuals that we are, and that is the bedrock of connection after a year that has left us ready and eager to reach out.
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Tim R. Johnston, PhD is the Senior Director of National Projects at SAGE. In that role he oversees the SAGECare cultural competency training program and key national partnerships with other advocacy organizations.
Tim is the author of Welcoming LGBT Residents: A Practical Guide for Senior Living Staff which is the first comprehensive book on how to create a positive and safer experience for LGBT older adults in senior living settings. In addition to facilitating LGBT cultural competency trainings, Tim is a frequent speaker at national and international conferences. He serves in several advisory and leadership roles, including on the governing board for the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care, as a council member for the LGBT Aging Issues Network (LAIN) of the American Society on Aging, and he regularly represents SAGE as a subject matter expert on academic research teams.