In 1956, I was 24 years old, graduated, Cum Laude, specializing in “Psychiatric Group Work” from Columbia University, in New York City. After a stint as a social worker at Bird S. Kohler Hospital, I began The Group Work Department at Montefiore Home for The Aged, in Cleveland, Ohio. It was there that I met Albert Trossler, age 78, Isadore Rose, age 73, Izabel Gogolick ,age 65, Florence Lew, age 67, Mathilde Arvey, aged 91, and Martha Freyman, 91. All were diagnosed, “Senile Psychotic.” Using the Social Group Work skills that I had learned, I formed, “The Tuesday Group.” Florence Lew, a former buyer of expensive women’s clothing, became The Chairlady; Izabel Gogolick , former bookkeeper for General Electric, served as Secretary.
To begin, I asked Mrs. Lew to call the meeting to order. No sooner had she opened her mouth to speak, when Isadore Rose, former attorney, waived his cane to the ceiling, shouting, “GOD DAMN SONOFABITCH!” His voice was harsh, his lips pursed, his eyes narrowed. I verbalized his emotion: “You are so angry, Mr. Rose. “Goddamn right, I’m Angry!” He spat out the words. I explored: “Did someone hurt you?”
After a long silence, his voice holding fear, he whispered: “He locked me in the attic.” My voice mirrored his fear: “Who locked you up, Mr. Rose?”
“That sonofabitch, the Herr Doctor.”
“The Herr Doctor?” I whispered.
“Yeah.” He nodded, his cane pointing upward.
“Doctor Weil?” I querried?
“Yeah! The Bastard!” His voice gained resonance as his fury grew. Dr. Weil was the administrator of the Home for the Aged.
“What do you want to tell him?” I explored.
“Go to Hell, You sonofabitch!” He roared.
The group became silent.
After a few moments, I asked Mr. Rose: “Do you feel a little better, now?”
“Yeah!” He spat the words, emphatically. I turned to Mrs. Lew, our president: “What can we tell Mr. Rose, when he gets so angry?”
Mrs. Lew looked Mr. Rose squarely in the eye: “Just shake your cane and tell Dr. Weil to behave, or you will fire him.”
“That’s Right!” Mrs. Gogolick chimed in with a joyous lilt to her voice. The group meeting ended in a happy note.
As I walked to the next group meeting, I was joined by the psychologist, Dr. Rosner.
“Well, Dr. Rosner, do you think we should fire Dr. Weil? “
Dr. Rosner smiled, and returned my humor: “It would be better if Mr. Rose fired him. Why don’t you find out if Mr. Rose’ father punished him severely when he was a little boy?” I discovered, the next day, when Mr. Rose’s sister visited, that his father had locked him in the attic to punish him, for things he had never done.
Now, when Mr. Rose brandished his cane, threatening Dr. Weil, I chimed in, “Yeah, that God Damn S.O.B. really hurt you, didn’t he?” “Mr. Rose met my gaze, and slowly nodded, a tear falling down his cheek.
I had learned that the administrator, Dr. Weil, the male authority, symbolized Mr. Rose’ father. Dr. Rosner taught me that people in present time can become symbols, or substitutes, for people from the past.
Interns from the school of social work learned to empathize with residents of The Home.
When Mr. Rose shook his cane and swore, social work students mirrored his anger. Suddenly, his anger lessened, his swearing stopped. When I asked Dr. Rosner to explain the dynamics, he taught us when feelings are “validated,” they are relieved. The pain lessens. “You are validating your residents, helping them release their pain.” When social work students asked me what I was doing, I answered: “Validation.” And so a new way of relating was formed.