by Silvia Pellegrini, Validation teacher and Recreational therapist
Holiday time: Everything slows down. We take a deep breath; we take a break from our daily frenzy, and appreciate the small, important moments that we sometimes miss every day. As I look back on the past several months of activities, I appreciate even more the opportunities that the Validation method has provided me, especially individual sessions and group meetings that consume my daily educational activities. I’ve also had the opportunity to share my knowledge and skills in the academic arena which has added to my own personal and professional development.
Among my Validation individual sessions, I experienced wonderful empathetic moments with one resident in particular, Ms Maria. In the beginning of the year, she was in Phase 1. When she began to experience many losses such as the ability to walk, dress, and eat on her own, Maria’s mood changed dramatically. The organization’s multidisciplinary staff where she lives put into place some actions that made sense, at least according to their standard procedures.
Medications were prescribed and the professional staff, along with the support of her family, were encouraged to involve her in more activities, participate in outings and other social interactions. While those were important, rich experiences for Maria, they did not fulfil her basic human need to be heard. It was only through our individual Validation sessions that Maria expressed to me her desire to die and return to her homeland. On many occasions, she told me, with resignation, “What am I doing about here? I feel like a broken machine, unuseful. I want to die.”
Within my Validation practice, I spent time with Maria (and other residents) listening to them without judgement and allowing them to share whatever they were feeling. I never tried to distract her or to minimize the important emotions she shared. Sometimes through recorded sessions along with ordinary conversations to nursing home residents, I witnessed depressive moods and serious decreases in affect, not only in the first phase of disorientation, but also with cognitively intact older people. Based upon my observations and my training, Validation has found a place in a university final degree thesis work in Psychological Sciences and Technologies which I completed in April 2023. The method developed by Naomi Feil, though specifically targeted to an ‘old-old’ population with cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s or other related dementias, I found the method to be applicable and helpful in the prevention and restoration of depressive disordered older people’s general well-being, both for those whose cognitive functioning is intact and those with cognitive decline.
The Validation basic attitude is authentically empathetic and enduring. It stimulates relational openness, a leading important element when the state of mind turns into dysthymia: the person feels acknowledged and embraced with no expectations and without trying to change them. We welcome the older person’s behavioral expressions (including those mainly linked to the depression such as apathy, anhedonia, isolation tendency, apyrexia), as proper reactions to situations or traumas in their lives or connected to unfulfilled basic human needs. Based upon my 15 years of experience in the geriatric field, I assert that a validating basic attitude is fundamental to psycho-educational interventions with older persons expressing depressive symptoms.
The results are undeniable. By integrating the Validation method, the signs of depressive ailments are detected early and their decline and conclamation are avoided (along with other specialty interventions). Improvements are present in numerous areas: perception and presentation of the person, increased weight and hours of sleep, decreased anhedonia, increased participation in activities (at the older person’s initiative) and moments of conviviality along with resumption of acts of care towards relatives and acquaintances.
During the last annual intervision/supervision of the AVO to which I belong (Agape AVO), the Validation Master, fellow teachers, and trainers present reported that in their daily work, they had experienced the same results. The results were shared during the academic conference, XVI National Conference on the Psychology of Aging at the University of Pavia, Italy. On Friday, May 26, a panel discussion entitled “Emotion Validation: A Possibility of Care and Self-care in Elderly Depression” was presented with good feedback and interest from several participants.
The panel discussion began by outlining the theoretical framework (depressive disorders, Validating approach and the Validation method) which was followed by a series of interventions (presented by the different professional co-authors) that illustrated the different practical applications: an elderly woman not cognitively impaired and residing at home, an elderly woman with mild impairment attending a CDI, an elderly woman with moderate impairment and residing in an RSA and finally with a caregiver (family member). In fact, the Validating attitude encourages one to become aware of personal preconceptions and judgments, to learn to validate the emotions that are triggered in the care process and to initiate a growth process (to be carried out with appropriate pathways), to prevent caregiver burn out and help to counteract the appearance of depressive traits generated by the illness including the need for institutionalization of one’s loved one.
What about group sessions? Validation groups or participation in an Alzheimer Café (inspired by the Validation groups) are likewise moments of acceptance of the expression of emotions that can foster a recovery of self-esteem in a participatory venu, counteracting those attitudes that can foster the onset or worsening of depressive states. In the past two months, observational data from some of the elderly women participants in group sessions (the “Sympathetic Friends Group”) conducted at the RSA where I work have contributed to a study that will be brought to the European Alzheimer’s Conference in Helsinki October 18, 2023 (entitled “Giving value to the identity of people with dementia in Validation® group sessions” within the presentation category of “New opportunities in treatment and management”). I will update the reader with the results of this ongoing study in a later VTI newsletter.
As I look back on all that I have experienced, I can only see how much Validation has enriched my professional and personal life and continues to do so every day. And I am increasingly grateful to have encountered this method now 13 years ago … looking forward to new collaborations and insights in the coming months.