Rewarding Challenges: Social Work with Older Adults
by Caroline Rosenthal Gelman & Carol Tosone
Two illustrative vignettes show a first and second year social work student addressing common situations in cases with older clients and seeking guidance from their experienced supervisor.
While social work with older adults can present many challenges, the experience of helping this growing population proves most fulfilling to those who enter this area of social work. Rewarding Challenges portrays true-to-life snapshots of typical cases with older clients. The video is made up of two vignettes which portray common scenarios from the perspective of a first- and second-year social work intern.

The first vignette follows Sarah, a first-year social work student who is hesitant about her placement in a seniors' community center. Sarah is shown trying to engage Mr. Williams, a retired teacher in the neighborhood who recently lost his wife. Although Sarah is persistent in her approach to sell the center's services, Mr. Williams insists that he is doing fine and does not need help. While much of their time is spent debating Mr. Williams' needs, Sarah learns some interesting things about her prospective client in their brief first meeting. The video then shows her sharing this experience with her supervisor, who helps Sarah recognize her own anxieties and preconceptions of older adults. The supervision meeting helps viewers connect with the successes and mistakes of this first year student's session, and illustrates how social workers can help older adults while still respecting their independence and self-determination.

The second vignette follows Ben, a second-year social work student who has a bit more experience working with older clients. Ben is visited by a previous client, Patricia, whose elderly mother is struggling with Alzheimer's disease. Patricia is anxious about her mother's recent decline and overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for her. Ben is knowledgeable about several respite opportunities and also advises Patricia to have her mother reevaluated by her doctor, in order to complete an updated biopsychosocial. Patricia leaves feeling less anxious because of the "plan" Ben helped her formulate. Although Ben seemed to help Patricia and her mother, he talks to his supervisor about his discomfort with the session. Patricia's early arrival for the appointment caught him off guard, and he did not feel confident that he helped her clinically in her overwhelmed state. Ben's supervisor helps him recognize the challenges faced by family caretakers, and how information and referral of concrete services is often the first important step in the clinical process.

The illustrative vignettes in Rewarding Challenges are followed by a list of ten valuable teaching points about working with older clients. This video highlights common examples of casework with older adults, providing viewers with an accurate picture of the many dimensions of gerontological social work.
In Depth
Many people wonder what goes into working with older clients. This video provides colorful examples that answer those questions, presented very much like "a day in the life of a gerontological social worker." You'll see the wide array of concrete services available to older clients as well as their families, the clinical aspect of working with this population, and the personal feelings to address in yourself. Tying it all together is a great list of teaching points about this population, which you'll surely keep in mind in your own practice.

From watching this video, you will:
  • Watch two common cases examples of work with older clients and their families, and learn key insights specific to this population from the coordinating supervision meetings.
  • Learn 10 valuable teaching points about work with older adults, which take into consideration their unique physical, social, cognitive, and emotional needs.
  • Become familiar with the many aspects of gerontological social work and the various professional opportunities available in this area of the field.

Length of video: 00:41:23

English subtitles available

Group ISBN-10 #: 1-60124-493-2

Group ISBN-13 #: 978-1-60124-493-2

Dr. Caroline Rosenthal Gelman is an Associate Professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College, and Director of the Education, Training and Lifelong Learning Core of the Silberman Center of Excellence in Aging and Diversity. She received her BA in Anthropology from Harvard in 1987, her MSW from the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1991, and her Ph.D. from Smith College School for Social Work in 1998.

Dr. Rosenthal Gelman has practiced as a clinical social worker for 23 years, specializing in mental health issues in a variety of settings and with diverse populations. She has an especially strong commitment to and interest in working with Latino populations, and has done so throughout her career. Most recently she has focused on the experiences and needs of older adults and their caregivers. Her most recent completed project, the Caregiver Ombudsman Outreach Program, provided referral, information and respite services to nearly 200 diverse caregivers of older adults in the underserved areas of West Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood in New York City. The project was a collaboration of eight community agencies and Silberman School of Social Work. She has been the PI on various grants tailoring and evaluating supportive interventions for Latino family caregivers of persons with AD, and exploring obstacles to diagnosis and intervention in this population, as well as the role of culture in their experience of caregiving.

In addition, for the past seven years, Dr. Rosenthal Gelman has focused on researching and implementing best practices for exposing MSW students to knowledge and skills in working with older adults. She has been PI or Co-PI on various grants to develop gerontological training material from the Council on Social Work Education’s Gero-Ed Center and The John A. Hartford Foundation, which funded the development of computer-mediated modules highlighting knowledge and skills in assessment, diagnosis, and intervention with older adults aimed at exposing all advanced concentration social work students to mental health practice with the aging. In recognition and support of her work with and research on older adults, she was selected as a Hartford Faculty Scholar in Geriatric Social Work by the John A. Hartford Foundation and the Gerontological Society of America for 2007 to 2010.  Dr. Carol Tosone is an associate professor of social work and recipient of the NYU Distinguished Teaching Award. Dr. Tosone, who joined the NYU Silver School of Social Work faculty in 1993, is a Distinguished Scholar in Social Work in the National Academies of Practice in Washington, DC. Dr. Tosone was selected for a Fulbright Senior Specialist Award for teaching and research at the Hanoi University of Education in Vietnam. She also taught as Distinguished Visiting Lydia Rappaport Professor at Smith College for Social Work. Dr. Tosone received her certification in psychoanalysis and psychotherapy from the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health, where she was the recipient of the Postgraduate Memorial Award.

Prior to her appointment at NYU, Dr. Tosone was an assistant professor of social work in psychiatry at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia, PA. She is editor-in-chief of the Clinical Social Work Journal and serves on the editorial boards of Social Work in Mental Health, Social Work in Health Care, Psychoanalytic Social Work, Psychoanalytic Perspectives, Smith College Studies in Social Work, and the online journal Beyond the Couch. She also serves as a consulting reviewer to numerous other psychotherapy journals and publishers.

Dr. Tosone is series editor for Essential Clinical Social Work Series published by Springer; co-editor of three books, Love and Attachment: Contemporary Issues and Treatment Considerations, Short-term Treatment, Doing More with Less: Using Long-term Skills in Short-Term Treatment, and Contemporary Clinical Practice: The Holding Environment Under Assault; and author of numerous professional articles and book chapters. She has also served as the executive producer, writer, and narrator of educational and community service media, including Why Am I Here?: Engaging the Reluctant Client; Feel Free to Feel Better: FEMA Trauma Training; Rewarding Challenges: Social Work with Older Adults; The Greying Elephant in the Room: Substance Abuse and Older Adults; Look Back to Move Ahead; Look Back to Move Ahead: Social Work with Survivors of Trauma; and No Periods, Only Commas: A Portrait of Tiffany.

Dr. Tosone has been quoted or cited in the New York Times, as well as other newspapers and magazines as an expert on trauma and women’s issues. Dr. Tosone has served as a visiting professor or guest lecturer at several international universities, including Hyllum University in South Korea, Sanata Dhara University in Java, Tonjgi University in Shanghai, and Peking University and China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing. Dr. Tosone’s primary research interest is clinician exposure to collective trauma. She has served as a consultant to Psychology Beyond Borders in Indonesia; a member of the Doctors without Borders Hurricane Sandy Mental Health Response Team; and as a consultant to UNICEF and the Afghanistan Ministry of Labour, Social Affairs, Martyrs, and Disabled in the development of National Occupational Skills Standards for Social Work. Since joining the NYU faculty, Dr. Tosone has delivered over 100 professional papers and presentations in academic, medical, and mental health settings in the United States, as well as international venues in Asia, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, and South America. 
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