The day before APA's 2006 Annual Convention, seven geropsychologists drove to social service centers in New Orleans and Baton Rogue to teach stress management to aging-services workers. The participants—mostly clinicians, social workers and case managers—had tough jobs even before hurricanes Katrina and Rita, says workshop leader Leon Hyer, EdD, a psychiatry professor at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Since the disasters, they are struggling more than ever to bring food, housing and health care to their elderly and low-income clients, he notes.
"These people had all been involved in one way or another with the victims of Katrina for a long period of time, and they felt helpless, hopeless and frustrated," Hyer said.
The increased job demands have caused some service providers to lose sight of their own needs, and the workshops sought to remind them to care for themselves, according to Deborah DiGilio, director of APA's Office on Aging, which co-sponsored the event along with APA Div. 20 (Adult Development and Aging) and Div. 12, Section II (Society of Clinical Psychology-Clinical Geropsychology) and APA's Committee on Aging. Seventy-five participants in the workshops learned techniques for identifying and managing their own stress from leaders Robert Intrieri, PhD, of Western Illinois University; Suzanne Meeks, PhD, of the University of Louisville; Catherine Yeager, of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; and Victor Molinari, PhD, Jenie Liang, PhD, Miguel Lewis, PsyD, and Shirley Watkins, PsyD, all of the University of South Florida. The Louisiana Governor's Office on Elderly Affairs, Catholic Charities and Catholic Community Services provided space, equipment and publicity for this effort.
Over the course of three hours, participants learned about the toll that chronic stress takes on the body and mind, and the importance of taking time to relax-even when there are people in great need around you. Participants learned breathing and relaxation techniques, and shared stories of job stress. They also identified things they enjoyed doing-like shopping or hanging out with friends-and learned how setting aside time to exercise, sleep and eat well can help them stay effective and healthy.
"These are social-services workers, so they have some training, and they have some stress-management skills, but sometimes we need to be reminded to use those skills," said Meeks.