A psychotherapy story: Mabel and Liza

iStock_000009476468_ExtraSmall-2Mabel was in her late 80s, had lost a leg to diabetes and didn’t hear well. She’d been suicidal upon her admission to the nursing home, but the team had worked hard to stabilize her mood. Months later, she wasn’t exactly happy, but she and Liza, her young private aide, attended activities together and she no longer thought she’d be better off dead.

I focused on her strengths when I was with her, appealing to her best self and trying to coax her out of her negativity. I frequently updated her on the news, giving her a report tailored to her interests.

“What do you think of this, Mabel?” I asked, sharing the latest events on the presidential election.

“I think it’s disgusting,” she replied.

“So are you ready to vote when they come around with the absentee ballot?”

“I’m not going to vote.”

“What?! Why not?” I asked, genuinely shocked.

“I’m not going to be alive to see it. Why should I care?”

“What about me?! What about Liza? She’s been awfully nice to you. Surely you can vote for Liza.”

Mabel paused and considered. “Yes. I can vote for Liza.”

A few days later I saw Liza and Mabel out of her bedroom talking to some other residents. Mabel was animated and actually smiling, a rare occurrence since I’d known her.

I’m sure a number of things contributed to Mabel’s shift in mood, but I have no doubt that recognizing her continued value as a citizen and having the opportunity to help Liza were among them.

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