Nursing Home Mental Health: The Case of the Call Bell

“I had a couple of relapses this week,” Betty told me, looking ashamed.

We’d been working in psychotherapy on her efforts not to snap at the aides and nurses who came to care for her.

“I try not use to my call bell,” she went on.  “Sometimes I sit here for two hours thinking about it before I press it.”

“Maybe that’s part of the problem,” I suggested.  “If you’re waiting for two hours before you let them know you need help and then it takes them a little while to get here, by the time they arrive you’re ready to explode.”

She nodded.  “That’s true.”

Betty was more psychologically-minded than many residents, so I took things a step further.  “It’s also not taking very good care of yourself to wait two hours to ask for help.  If you had a child who needed help, would you make them wait two hours?”

“No!”  Betty’s bulletin board was filled with the Mother’s Day, birthday, and Christmas cards her only child sent instead of visiting.

“Now you have a chance to give yourself the care you didn’t get as a child.”

“What do you mean?” she asked sharply, “My parents took care of me!”

“From the things you told me about what went on in that house, you children were not getting enough supervision.”

Betty, an incest survivor, stared at me.  “I never thought of it that way.”

“This may sound corny, but now Grown-up Betty has the chance to take care of Little Betty, and ask for what she needs when she needs it.'”

Betty burst into tears.  “Wow…wow…I never thought of it like that.”  She pulled a tissue out from the box on her tray table and blew her nose.  “I could do that. I could take care of myself.”  She gave me a piercing look.  “Wow…thank you!”

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