Our Guest Editor: Passionate About Elders’ Resilience

Tobi Abramson may serve in two rather large day jobs—directing both geriatric mental health initiatives for New York City and the Mental Health Counseling Program at the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT)—but we at ASA know Tobi as a deeply involved leader who is passionate about older adults’ mental health.

She also served as a member of the ASA Board of Directors for several terms, chaired ASA’s Awards Committee, MHAN’s Leadership Council and Editorial Board, co-chaired ASA’s NYC regional group and served on its Governance and Strategic Planning Committees.

Outside of ASA she is a Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine and the Gerontological Society of America and has served as board chair of numerous state and national aging-focused organizations. She worked at NYIT as a full-time member of the faculty and continues to work as an adjunct professor.

Perhaps her most fervent belief, though, is the worth of looking at mental health from the vantage point of growth instead of decline. For years she pushed hard for this Generations Journal issue on older adult mental health and resilience to become a reality, and we thank her for that persistence.

Since 1991, Abramson has in some capacity worked to foster elders’ mental health, considering such work to be a gift. “I never stop learning from them or about myself,” she said.

“As a psychologist, I often feel that if I can help an older adult build or find their resilience by integrating all of the aspects of their lives into a meaningful whole, I have given them the best gift. Each older adult has so many strengths that can become buried—sometimes due to life’s stressors or environmental or health events. It is so important for mental health professionals to focus on an older adult’s strengths and the growth that is still possible,” she added.

When asked about career milestones, Abramson remained in character, talking about the people with whom she works instead of the work itself. “Accomplishments range from seeing an older adult in their ‘ah-ha’ moment in a therapy session, to seeing students who had no interest in working with older adults, surrounded by their own ageist views, become excited about working with this population,” she said.

Describing how one NYIT health science student was at first completely disinterested in working with older adults, but as part of an interprofessional, experiential course on environmental home modification that paired health science and interior design students, he was required to use a storytelling approach to find out what was meaningful to the older adults involved. As this student worked with the couple on a potential home modification plan, he came away from the exercise in awe of how busy and engaged with life the couple was.

“About a year later, the student came back to tell me he entered a graduate program with a specialty in aging, as this is where he wanted to spend his career,” Abramson said. She had developed and co-taught the course with the NYIT’s Chair of Interior Design, knowing the storytelling approach would necessitate close interactions over time. And it worked.

Abramson is well aware of the power of narrative and has used that awareness often in her volunteer work for ASA, especially in her years spent on the Generations Editorial Advisory Board.

Her motivations for editing this particular issue are deeply tied to her day-to-day work. “I have always believed that we all have strengths, whether or not we can see them through the cloudy skies that sometimes plague us,” she said.

“Older adults are much more resilient than we may presume and have the potential to grow throughout life. There are so many wonderful examples of this if we just would take the time to really look for them. You never stop learning, growing, and thriving, and it is important for mental health professionals to focus greater attention on resiliency and how to cultivate it when someone loses their ability to see what’s possible,” Abramson added.

She hopes readers will be inspired to look for these strengths in the elders with whom they work and to build resiliency in themselves, too. Abramson also would like us all to focus on the many innovations in the ever-changing world of mental health (this is where her work at NYIT comes in), to add new tools to existing toolkits.

Abramson envisioned and edited this issue, which is packed with 15 articles, covering fascinating topics from post-traumatic growth to alleviating loneliness through creative expression to building a stronger geriatric mental health workforce. Please read it “cover to cover,” as it is well worth the wait it took to arrive in your inboxes.

Alison Biggar is ASA’s Editorial Director.

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Ian Dyball