3 - AGING WELL – Becoming a LifePro™
An Interview with Stefan Deutsch by Dr. Roberta Karant
5/20/10To see original article go to: http://www.agingwellmag.com/news/ex_032210_03.shtml
Below is an interview that I conducted with Stefan Deutsch, a Gestalt Psychotherapist and philosopher of human development. Mr. Deutsch is founder and Executive Director of The Human Development Company. Importantly, he was co-founder of Creative Aging, Inc., a non-profit holistic educational organization, some 30 years ago. He has formulated an exciting theory of lifespan, The Continuum Theory™, which includes the new concept of a developmental self. Mr. Deutsch believes that we need to provide unconditionally loving energies to nurture the healthy growth of the ‘ developmental self’, and that by defining love in a new, functional way, individuals are able to be more unconditional with themselves and others.
Mr. Deutsch is perhaps the most dynamic advocate not only for those who are aging, but of aging itself. Sounds odd? Some years ago he coined the phrase “LifePro™” for those over 50. Instead of seeing the elderly as a group to be helped and made comfortable, Mr. Deutsch is telling those who are aging that society still needs them. He is saying that our future is ‘not our children’, as the conventional wisdom goes, but it is a 50-plus population of LifePros™ - enlightened, developed, inspiring, loving, powerful change-agents. He means everyone not only a special few ‘self-actualized’ individuals. (ala Maslow). The following interview with Mr. Deutsch explains just what he means by this.
RK: Stefan, from what I understand you have a new way of looking at the aging process. One that will help practitioners look differently at their own aging, as well as seeing a potential for growth in their older client population in spite of possible physical ills or decline.
SD: Yes, I see the last stage of the aging process as potentially the most vital and powerful time of life. Even where there is illness. Just look at Stephen Hawking. I believe that if people come to understand and expect that they can be the most effective at the later stages of their life they will look forward to those years. It also follows that then they will be more involved in taking care of their bodies and minds. In our society as people grow older they view themselves as more on the sidelines than as movers and shakers. People’s vision is to be comfortably retired, attending to their own needs, being helpful with grandchildren, and perhaps being active in some cause. Older adults see themselves as being physically weaker, less attractive, and hoping that they don’t lose their memory. Drug companies constantly bombard older adults with messages about physical decline and illness. Their adult children think they know everything better than their parents. The general view of aging is one of declining power, involvement and effectiveness. The focus I believe is on the superficial rather then the intrinsic qualities of what it means to be human and what it means to be powerful. I believe this is the opposite of what nature intended for human beings to experience
RK. What did nature intend?
SD. Nature intended for human beings to continually develop their potential power till death, which would lead them to being more involved and more effective as years pass, rather than less. In my ontology the concept of Power means becoming more able to inspire others toward the common good. It requires among other things the ability to be unconditional. LifePros™ are the most capable of being unconditional.
RK: LifePro™, I love that term. Can you define it for us?
SD. I coined this term about 20 years ago to describe an individual who has fully developed his or her awareness, uses clear, conscious vision, can communicate in an inspiring way, and is able to love unconditionally. Just think what it would mean for us, the practitioners, to become LifePros™ and to facilitate our patients becoming LifePros™.
RK. So, how would this influence the way we as practitioners look at ourselves and treat our patients and clients?
SD: By embracing this new perspective we would continually be excited about the potential for our own growth and effectiveness in the years ahead. Jean Watson, Ph.D. explains her belief that using “caring competencies" becomes as critical as using "technological curing competencies". My theory of human development enhances the practitioner’s ability to apply “caring competencies”. By applying this new approach to ‘aging well’ we can empower ourselves and those we serve.
RK. Can you talk about your new concepts of human development?
SD. The Continuum Theory™ of Human Development goes beyond much of the work in the field of human development. It is clear that a 5 year old can’t do physically what a 10, 15 or a 20 year old can do. As the body develops a human being is capable of doing more and more with it. As one’s physical potential develops the individual’s ability to be more effective in the world increases exponentially bringing with it more satisfaction. The same is true for one’s mental abilities. A 15 or 20 year old can’t reason as well as a 30 or 40 year old. As one’s mind develops one’s capacity to reason increases, one gains more control over life bringing with it more satisfaction. Science has decided that only the body and the mind have this potential for development. The only thing that the present scientific view of aging leaves us with is looking forward to decline in these two areas. The scientific view is exactly the vision most people have; waiting for and resisting the inevitable decline of their body and mind.
RK. Can you site an example of what you believe is science’s view of aging as declining?
SD. With pleasure. The August 2009 issue of the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, has an article about research with a group of 70 and 80 year olds. To quote Dr. Yang about seniors’ ability to learn and retain, “This finding was astonishing, we always assumed that seniors would have great difficulty in grasping new concepts and maintaining what they’ve learned.” The fact that she was ‘astonished’ clearly shows the prejudiced thinking.
There are two studies that show the harmful impact of the negative societal views and belief systems regarding aging. One study, funded by the National Institute on Aging shows that people susceptible to negative images of aging die 7.5 years younger – the second study, published in Sept. ‘04 issue of Psychology and Aging shows that people susceptible to negative images have a poorer memory retention rate and become frail sooner.
It is clear that negative views of aging have a deleterious effect and must be countered, which is what my lifespan theory does.
My developmental theory not only applies to children and younger adults, but equally to adults in later life. I contend, and my 25 years of working with individuals going into their 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s strongly indicates, that in fact our journey for developing potential is not over at 20 or 40. I believe there are developmental areas that are neither physical nor mental. In my view, when these potential areas are attended to and developed by proper training, just as we develop physical and mental potential, one experiences more power as I define it. It leads to exponentially more control over his or her life, bringing with it a lot more satisfaction and the probability of ‘aging well’, and living a longer, more productive life.
RK. What are these developmental areas if they are neither physical nor mental?
SD. There are 4. They are awareness – conscious vision – conscious communication – loving unconditionally, which includes, most importantly, learning how to give and receive ‘love’ unconditionally.
I believe these are the 4 developmental areas of the ‘self’. I believe these 4 areas are totally neglected from a developmental point of view. Soccer and math are not. These 4 areas become our Achilles Heal when it comes to self knowledge, happiness, and finally, ‘aging well’. Only by having these four areas fully developed can a person experience what truly ‘aging well’ can be. But this is another article altogether.
RK: Many people are going to say that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
SD: Once this new vision of aging is publicized enough people will want make it their own. The promise is finding true fulfillment and to self-actualize. The good news is that creating a new vision begins to re-wire the brain’s neuro-pathways. Much of the latest in brain research verifies that the brain’s wiring is plastic and can be re-wired. So there is the clear evidence that this new vision of learning and growth are available to all.
If we take groups of aged people and tell them that our expectation is for them to enter the most magnificent stage of their lives that is full of potential they will look at themselves differently. Their health, their vitality, their relationships, in fact everything will improve.
RK: This is very exciting. I can see how it can help not only individuals in their 60’s and above, but also those in their 30s, 40s and 50s.
SD: Yes, built into this is a concept that will empower all practitioners, including younger ones, to look forward to their own growth and development as they age. Once practitioners understand that this process is true for everyone they can begin to interact with clients in a more positive and powerful way. I know I’m preaching to the choir and people in this field are aware of guiding their clients towards aging well. However, what I’m talking about is really appreciating this stage of life as we have never appreciated it before. I’m talking about looking forward to aging as a time when we have the greatest potential to effect change. In order to affect change people need to embark on a developmental journey – developing their awareness, vision, communication skills, and most importantly learning how to give and receive love unconditionally.
RK. You seem to be saying it is never too late?
SD. Absolutely. The younger one starts the better in some ways, but my theory also states that there is a readiness for this developmental spurt that makes it more likely and more effortless around 40 plus.
RK: Love is such a broad concept. Can you explain how you’re using it here?
SD: In order for our ‘self’ to develop and come into its full power, it needs loving energy as a form of nourishment. Loving energies sustain and heal. The more love we are able to give our clients, the more they’re going to thrive and age well. And so will we. Jean Watson, Ph.D. has done a lot of work within the nursing profession regarding the positive effect caring has on the patient population. The more nurses exhibited transpersonal caring behaviors the better results in both wellbeing and satisfaction were reported by both nurses and patients. The transpersonal caring that Dr. Watson has been utilizing so effectively is one form of ‘loving energy’. I believe people need unconditional loving energy for their wellbeing and healing. Developmentally the aging population is at a stage in the life cycle where they can give unconditional loving energy more effectively and consistently than at any other time of life. Therefore, LifePros™ become potentially our most important natural resource. Like machines need fuel to run, we human beings need loving energies to thrive.
RK. I notice that you refer to ‘loving energies’ as opposed to love. What do you mean by loving energies?
SD. Loving energies to me are patience, kindness, acceptance, support, encouragement, understanding, a smile, a hug, a firm handshake, being generous, compassionate, etc. etc. All these deliver a quantum amount of energy with each transaction, from one human being to another that we
universally value and need. I call them all loving energies. LifePros™ are the best at giving these. Just ask a grandchild.RK: How did you come up with this concept?
SD: One day I woke up and there seemed to be a chorus in my head chanting, “Why does it hurt when we are deprived of love?” Why are people in pain just because someone raises their voice, looks at them funny, or doesn’t want to be their friend? Actually, going back, years before I developed my theory of love, I wondered why we felt such pain when someone wasn’t nice to us. And why we felt so good when people were nice to us. It was obvious to me why a person is in pain when they are punched – the body receives a shock and our nerve receptors interpret that shock as pain. People scream, cry, or moan when there is physical pain. Science allows us to state that events such as birthing, kidney stones, or black and blue marks hurt, are painful, and thus our responses are appropriate. But how can we explain someone crying because someone ‘broke up’ with them? How do unkind words, criticism, yelling, hurt us – cause us to become depressed, even commit suicide? After all there are no black and blue marks, no broken bones, no kidney stones. There is nothing physical that we can see.
RK. I remember going through a lot of pain during relationship breakups. I never stopped to think why. It seemed so obvious. We all feel pain when people we love hurt our feelings or no longer love us.
SD. That’s it. I started to think about love as something real, not a notion, like eros, or agape or familial love, because they are just names for examples of the way love is experienced in relationships. Romantic, self sacrificing or mother’s love doesn’t explain what love is. It just acknowledges that some unique exchange of energy is happening between two people.
RK. You say ‘love is real’. What do you mean by that?
SD. What happens when we receive love is that we thrive. Feeling energized, feeling happy, is real. What happens when we are deprived of love is that we feel pain, life isn’t worth living. Pain is real. Both ways a very real transaction of energy takes place that people experience universally. Only something real can cause real experiences and real reactions. Therefore logic tells me love is something real in a tangible, scientific sense. Then it occurred to me that there are other things we react to in exactly the same way. When we are deprived of oxygen, food and water, we experience pain. When we receive them we thrive, we feel energized. These three things, in various forms, are life sustaining energies. Since we seem to react to the deprivation of love and the getting of love the same way, again my logic says that love is another, a FOURTH - life sustaining energy.
RK. Now I am really curious as to what your definition of love is?
SD. In order to have one simple, functional definition, I defined ‘loving energy’ as; “A consciously generated, positive, transferable energy, that can be given and received – or withheld and blocked.”
RK. It makes all the sense in the world to me. It explains immediately why I would feel pain when someone mistreats me or why I feel so great when someone behaves in a loving way towards me. You work with a large population of adults. How do you apply your concepts when working with them?
SD. Many of my older adult clients have issues with their adult children, with siblings, with friends. They are loving them conditionally, meaning they withhold their love at times, and are being loved conditionally back. I believe that some of their physical symptoms and general well-being have to do with this conditional behavior. I ask them right up front if they want to have closer, more loving relationships with their adult children?
Bottom line is that when clients come to see me, many times the issues have to do with self-esteem. What I hear is a client who is not loving him or herself.
When they have parental issues, what I hear that they are not being loved by their parents, or parents not being respected by their adult children. When they have marital issues, what I hear is that they are not being loved by a spouse – and so on.
The majority of relationship issues seem to be revolving around the fact that most of us were loved conditionally, by that I mean we received love based on when we pleased our parents, spouse and friends, and were deprived of love when we didn’t please them. Now if love is a life sustaining energy and we’re deprived of it, we are going to remember a lot of pain. And most of us do feel that pain. That almost always led us to withhold our love as a way of getting back.
Another interesting thing became clear to me as I worked more and more with the concept of love being a life-sustaining energy. It is absolutely necessary for us to inhale oxygen, but what else is also absolutely necessary?
RK. I don’t know. Is this a trick question?
SD. It is absolutely necessary for us to exhale. All life sustaining energies are cyclical. In and out. Oxygen, food and water must enter, be utilized and exit for us to be healthy. If love is a life sustaining energy it must also be cyclical. It turns out that we need to ‘give’ love as much as we need to ‘receive’ it. Interrupt this cycle anywhere and you have pain. So when we withhold love from someone for any reason, we are hurting ourselves as much as them.
It became clear to me when working with this client population that one area needed immediate attention. The area was ‘love’ - the deprivation of love a client experiences, and their depriving others of it. What I always find as soon as I bring up the subject of getting and giving love is that people break down in tears. So, what that tells me is that we are dealing with a central issue – love. Aging Well can be summed up in one sentence. The ability of one to be unconditionally loving with the people in one’s life. There are degrees but in order to be as unconditional as possible, one must also develop the 3 other facilities – awareness, vision and communication. This one area of being unconditionally loving can use some serious attention. When done it can facilitate well-being and healing. Most people aging have an easier time being unconditional with grandchildren then their own children. Getting closer and having a more loving relationship with one’s adult children is important for aging well. As is healing wounds with spouses and siblings.
RK. It seems to me that your concepts apply equally to practitioners and their patients. The development of ‘self’ seems to be available at any age and it means aging well for everyone. This should encourage practitioners to see themselves and their patients in a new light. Those who undertake their own development become more aware, more loving and have a more positive effect on others and all of society, throughout their life. Is there a book on your horizon? You mentioned one of the most prestigious academic publishers having invited you to submit a book proposal.
SD. It seems everyone is insisting that I start with a popular book. That my concepts and system for learning and applying them are too important and are needed by the general public. The scientific community is small and it takes years for new concepts to take hold. So, I have been working on a popular book – “Love Will Set You Free”. We have most of the chapters done and tons of case studies so we’re about ready to start looking for a publisher.
RK. Any final thoughts?
SD. The field of aging has brought forth the concepts of ‘Conscious Aging’ as well as those of ‘Productive’ and ‘Successful’ aging. I believe my theory supports the tenets of the emerging science of ‘Conscious Aging’ and gives it a theoretical base. It further implies that ‘Conscious Aging’ is the foundation for aging being truly ‘successful’ or ‘productive’. ‘Conscious Aging’, to translate the way I would differentiate it from ‘successful’ or ‘productive’ aging is outward directed, as opposed to self directed. The difference is between; 1. looking to make the world a better place, each relationship richer and more meaningful, versus 2. looking to make one’s life the best it can be. Giving vs. getting. A colleague of mine, Lee Lipsenthal, M.D., who has been lecturing at medical schools and medical conferences for years – looking to help doctors understand stress, and its deadly effects – has, on the final slide of his presentation the words, “Love is Real”. Loving energy is certainly real and it heals, it energizes, and it helps all of us thrive. That is one of the many things an emotionally empowered aging population, our LifePros™, can offer us. I hope your readers will take a little time and chew on these ideas and see how they may impact their understanding of Aging Well, and the very quality of their patients’ and their own aging process.