Senior men's support group helps men transition from busy careers to fulfilling retirement

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Aug. 14, 2015

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Janet Christenbury
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jmchris@emory.edu

VIDEO: Senior Transitions Program, Mens Support Group at Emory Wesley Woods

A senior men’s support group, for those who are transitioning from long and successful careers to retirement, is attracting a diverse group of men at Emory University Hospital at Wesley Woods. The group meets twice a month and is lead by a male therapist.

The men, ages 60 years and older, talk about the different challenges in their lives as they transition from productive careers to reduced work hours and responsibilities, and then into retirement. They also share their fears and concerns with other men in similar situations.

“We’ve noticed that when men are in a mixed group, they tend not to be as honest about their fears and apprehensions as they are when they have a bunch of guys around who can identify with some of the same issues,” says Ed Lawrence, director of the Transitions Senior Program, Emory University Hospital at Wesley Woods. “Here, they can be honest, vulnerable and safe and talk about their worries and what their futures might bring.”

As the men move away from their busy work lives during the retirement years, they miss that structure and sense of purpose and feel the need to replace it.

“What made these men successful is also leaving emptiness now in their lives because they don’t have a way to apply that passion and those talents and skills anymore,” explains David Mueller, licensed therapist with the Emory Transitions Senior Program. “So they are now missing that daily connection with other men that came from their careers.”

The support group offers participants the chance to learn new concepts and skills from each other, including new ways to cope.

“Friends move away and friends pass away, and your circle gets smaller and smaller,” says Mueller. “At work, there was an inherent group of folks with whom to strategize and consult. Now that doesn’t exist anymore. That means you have to go outside of the normal way you previously communicated with people to make meaningful connection with others.”

Some of the men in the group have become caregivers to their spouses, and this adds another angle to life after careers end. Having people to talk with who are also faced with these new duties is both helpful and encouraging.

As the population continues to grow and live longer, more people will move into the retirement phase of life -- still healthy and active -- and looking for what to do next.

“When you stop learning, you stop living,” says Mueller. “I think it’s vitally important in this population to keep living and doing. It’s totally underestimated how much people are still learning and experiencing.”

Lawrence adds, “We have found that we have a big hole to fill in this population of people, both emotionally and personally. Many of these men are not ready to just go off into the sunset.”

The group, which began one year ago, is a free service provide by Emory University Hospital at Wesley Woods.