April 17, 2024
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April 17, 2024
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The Center for Purposeful Aging Restores Joy and Meaning to Life

You’ve built a career, home and family that defined you for decades. Maybe you’ve been so good at taking care of others, or producing a good income for your family, that you forgot about yourself. And now that the pandemic has kept you inside, you feel lonely and isolated. Sarah Hiller-Bersson, LCSW, has been helping older adults confront troubling thoughts like these to make life meaningful again. She started the Center for Purposeful Aging to help men and women learn how to rekindle their self-confidence and zest for life.

“Everyone has a passion, a core self,” said Bersson in a phone interview. “I help older adults tap into their genuine self, whether they’re 60 or 90, and find out who they are and what would bring them fulfillment in life. I offer help with the framework, get them out of their comfort zone and find what their true self wants to be, so they can live their best life and be their best self. Everyone has a purpose and can move forward. Sometimes people need help defining it and taking ownership of it.”

The pandemic quarantine has affected some more strongly than others, and therapy can return a depressed or anxious individual to their former self. Bersson recalled a patient she had recently, a 70-year-old woman who was quarantined with no close family. She used to meet friends for coffee but couldn’t adjust to the world of Zoom conversation. And she was embarrassed that her friends were handling the situation so much better than she was. Soon, she completely dropped out. Bersson helped her overcome her fears. Now she’s participating in Zoom conversation and exercise classes, and venturing outside for walks.

Before starting her own psychotherapy practice, Bersson worked for nine years in nursing homes, where she helped residents overcome feelings of loss and isolation—feelings many older adults have been coping with as the coronavirus is keeping them in their homes, away from family and friends. “I start with the idea that older adults have many years of experience and wisdom,” said Bersson. “I help them reflect on their own strengths to guide them through challenging times.”

Maryann Hom, who was the director of social services at the skilled nursing facility where Bersson worked, remembers her as compassionate, always accessible and creative in the way she provided counselling to residents. “She had an innate ability to understand what the residents were going through, adjusting to so many challenges and changes in roles, and made them feel supported and safe to open up to her and discuss the challenges of aging. And she worked with the families trying to adjust to the changes their mom and dad were going through. I never saw her angry or frustrated. She was always very enthusiastic with such a good attitude.”

Bersson recognizes that older adults are often hesitant to seek out counselling and psychotherapy. Often, adult children can determine if their parent needs help and make the call. “Look at your parent’s ability to cope—does your mom seem to be in distress? Is your dad not his regular, positive self? I can help re-orient their perspective and reorganize how they look at things,” she said.

Bersson, who lives in Teaneck with her husband, David Bersson, partner in Synergy Home Care Health Agency, gives lectures through the Center for Purposeful Aging to prepare adults for the next chapter in their lives. “Older people need to know they are valued and can still use their gifts,” she said. “Don’t forget life when you retire. Lean in to your passion. You raised a family, had a career, put in your time. You thought you achieved everything you were meant to accomplish in this life, but there is still an impactful life to live. You may have 30 years more to do what you want to do.”

Bersson utilizes and incorporates many psychotherapeutic interventions such as cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness and meditation in her practice to help when change, decline and loss—all things related to aging—create anxiety, depression and doubt. Meditation and mindfulness help you learn to control and influence the content of your thoughts so you stop having so many negative ones.

Positive psychology and gratitude are also worked into therapy to help reach a healthy outlook. “Gratitude changes your perspective,” said Bersson. “I’m still in my house. I’m doing ok. I’m healthy. I have people who love me.”

To find out more about classes, counselling and psychotherapy at the Center for Purposeful Aging, all covered by Medicare, contact Sarah Hiller Bersson at [email protected].

By Bracha Schwartz

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