Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Transitions, Wellness, and Life Satisfaction: Implications for Counseling Midlife Women

Academic journal article Journal of Mental Health Counseling

Transitions, Wellness, and Life Satisfaction: Implications for Counseling Midlife Women

Article excerpt

A diverse sample of 224 women, aged 35 to 65, participated in a study to examine the relations among transitions, life satisfaction, and wellness. The Women's Midlife Transitions Survey, developed for this study, provided information on the timeliness, expectedness, and impact of common midlife transitions. Implications for mental health counselors include the need to help midlife women understand and cope with a variety of common life changes that individually and collectively help to define their midlife experience.

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Comprising approximately 45% of the U.S. female population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2001), women aged 40 and over are charting life paths that are in stark contrast from the predictions of existing adult development theories built on the experiences of past generations (Neugarten, 1968). For some, midlife is a period of life for which there are flexible boundaries and no single, universal set of delimited age parameters (Staudinger & Bluck, 2001). Quadagno (2001) observed that "midlife" has only recently been defined, and explained that the development of a phase of life called "midlife" was due to increased longevity and the trend for a couple to spend as much as two decades or more together after the launching of their children. In 1989, the Harvard Medical School organized a research team, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Midlife Development (MIDMAC), to focus on successful midlife development because midlife was seen as a poorly defined and understudied life stage (MIDMAC, 1999). The team employed age parameters of 30 to 70 for their research efforts, while focusing on the ages from 40 to 60 as defining the fundamental midlife population.

In tandem with the poor understanding of middle adulthood and its parameters come many cultural stereotypes. These stereotypes depict midlife as a time of barrenness, asexuality, loss, and deterioration (MacPherson, 1995; Marcus-Newhall, Thompson, & Thomas, 2001; Markson & Taylor, 2000). However, today's midlife women may experience transitions during this period of life that differ markedly from traditional societal expectations and for which there are few role models. These transitions may occur in any of several contexts, including social, vocational, familial, and historical. First-time childbirth (Martin, Hamilton, Ventura, Menacker, & Park, 2002), first-time marriage (U.S. Census Bureau, 2002), divorce (Uhlenberg, Cooney, & Boyd, 1990), acceptance of a different sexual orientation (O'Leary, 1997), or reassuming the role of mother as a custodial grandparent (Climo, Terry, & Lay, 2002) are examples of unique transitions that midlife women may experience today. Ivey, Ivey, Myers, and Sweeney (2004) observed that the majority of clients present for counseling during life transitions; hence, to help midlife women cope with their changing life circumstances, mental health counselors need a knowledge base that both describes significant transition issues and relates them to positive mental health outcomes such as life satisfaction and well-being or wellness.

Factors that affect the impact of transitions include not only context, but also timing, expectations, and perceived impact (Schlossberg, Waters, & Goodman, 1995). Neugarten, Moore, and Lowe (1965) found that the perceived timeliness of an event (whether or not it was perceived as being "on-time") was particularly significant to an individual's assessment of the effect of specific transitions; moreover, age norms and expectations play a direct role in an individual's decision to begin and end particular activities. Societal sanctions may exist for those who transgress against age norms (Neugarten, 1996). Interestingly, Settersten and Hagestad (1996) found that the preponderance of beliefs concerning age-specific events or deadlines refer to the events in women's lives rather than in the lives of both men and women. …

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