Let’s talk about sex: A psychosocial group in a skilled nursing facility

According to the National Association of Social Workers website, the term psychosocial is defined as the “social, mental health, and emotional needs and the care given to meet [these needs].” Social workers, and professionals, often lead psychosocial groups to address client needs in a group setting. In some cases these groups can be used as a method of intervention when resident’s face depression and other mental health issues. Psychosocial groups are not necessarily for people with mental health problems, but also serve as an opportunity for mentally healthy individuals to engage with others and enhance their quality of life. These groups are useful with all age groups, in a variety of settings, including older adults in a nursing home.

Conception of a Psychosocial Group

The School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago requires that all first year master of social work student interns complete a macro project during their first year field placement. As a first year master of social work student at the University of Chicago, I got the idea of doing a psychosocial group for my macro project. A fellow social work intern, Lyndsey Shaner, and I both had an interest in sexuality and relationships in the nursing home milieu. Moreover, we were interested in intergenerational differences regarding sexuality issues, like what the nursing home residents were taught about sex, contraception, and sexually transmitted infections. A psychosocial group is meant to provide social and emotional support through discussion, so we developed “Tea Time.”  Tea Time is a psychosocial group that meets weekly in a Chicagoland skilled nursing facility. The group is facilitated by two master of social work interns, myself and Lyndsey Shaner, a master of social work student at DePaul University. Tea Time is a closed group consisting of carefully selected residents based upon personality characteristics and cognitive functioning.

Facilitating Conversations about Romantic Relationships

To facilitate exploration of issues surrounding romantic relationships and sex, Lyndsey and I selected several worksheets from a workbook entitled This Is My Life, My Autobiography. Included in the selection of worksheets are: Youthful Experimentation & Coming of Age, Dating After Widowhood and/or Divorce, and Birds and the Bees. These worksheets allowed for interesting discussions of important life experiences such as first dates and first kisses. The worksheets also facilitated a lively debate of personal values, provided insight into the resident’s self images, and encouraged members to share very personal, and often funny, stories of what they were taught (or not) about sex, where they learned what they know, and what they taught their children.

No Topic is Off Limits

Contrary to preconceived assumptions we made, the members have been rather candid and happy to share their personal experiences with the group and no topic has been off limits. The members enjoy comparing and contrasting their respective experiences and views with each other and with us. Starting with the very first session, the group members shared very personal stories of unfaithful husbands, the pain of divorce, sexual orientation, miscarriages, and looking for, but not often finding, love in the skilled nursing facility. Through personal narrative, we have learned that the members are still very much aware of and interested in romantic attraction. Furthermore, the members’ self-perceptions far supersede the reality of their physical condition when it comes to their interest in sex as well as their feelings about aging.

Continuing to Learn

There is a wealth of research showing us that psychosocial groups can affect participants’ quality of life in many ways, particularly in a long term care setting. It is important to continue to explore controversial ideas in a group setting because it engages new populations of older adults living in care residences. As a new generation ages, trends and topics discussed within aging communities will encourage professionals to rethink and reshape the provision of supportive services. What are some other some other hot topics that will need to be addressed within long term care residences? Sexually Transmitted Infections? Technology needs of the residents? Can you think of any other topics that would be considered “hot” that may become more common as we see a new generation age in community settings? Please feel free to post your comments. This post written in collaboration by both Lyndsey Shaner and Carmen Wyttebach and was edited by Abby Smith Thanks to adwriter for making this picture available.

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