Monday, June 22, 2009

Psychological Retirement Portfolio

Psychological Portfolio
Talk of preparing for retirement usually brings to mind financial issues. However, for many workers, the psychological adjustment to retirement is as difficult as the financial one. People go to a financial adviser and consult often yearly, sometimes more frequently. They go to a physician to get a checkup. But no one is checking up on their psychological portfolio because they didn't really have one. It's important, not just for retirement, but for every major change in life - career changes, marriage, divorce. Those things change the way you define yourself, your relationships and often change your sense of purpose.
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Counseling psychologist Nancy K. Schlossberg, EdD, came up with the psychological portfolio phrase as a way to get people to think of retirement as a career change…not only are you leaving something, you are about to begin something new. In a study of 100 retires, Dr. Schlossberg found that retirement is not one, but many transitions, that coping with these transitions depends on the following: the role of work and family in the life of the individual, the timing of retirement, the degree to which work has been satisfying, the degree to which retirement is planned for, the expectations one has about retirement, the degree to which a meaningful life is established and, of course one's health and sense of financial security. In other words, there are many factors that contribute to helping people negotiate the retirement transition.

Approaches to Retirement
Based on her study with retirees, Dr. Schlossberg identified the following ways in which people approach retirement:
  • Continuers who continued using existing skills and interests;
  • Adventurers who start entirely new endeavors;
  • Searchers who explore new options through trial and error;
  • Easy Gliders who enjoy unscheduled time letting each day unfold;
  • Involved Spectators who care deeply about the world, but engage in less active ways;
  • Retreaters who take time out or disengage from life.
Michigan State University psychology professor Norman Abeles, PhD, has found that those people most happy in retirement enjoy a variety of activities, ranging from volunteer work, exercise, continuing education and so on. Many on the road to retirement plan to spend a lot of time traveling, but increasing or unexpected physical aliments may make extensive traveling difficult, so be flexible in planning for retirement activities.
A life course perspective-looking at an individual's past, present, and future as a whole-explains why individuals differ in their retirement experience. Sociologist Phyllis Moen, with others, conducted a series of studies looking at the connection between retirement and physical and mental health and well-being. The studies examined what happens to people who exit the work role in a society where work is central to one's identity and also how the retirement experience differed for men and women. In a 1999 study presented at the American Psychological Association annual meeting, Dr. Moen and psychologist Jungmeen Kim, PhD, found that retirement brings different rewards for husbands and wives. Noting that most couples do not retire at the exact same time, Drs. Kim and Moen found various levels of marital satisfaction and depression for different combinations of employment and retirement. Newly retired women tend to be more depressed than continuously retired or not-yet-retired women, especially if their husbands remained employed. Newly retired men experience more marital conflict than nonretired men. In addition, newly retired men with employed wives tend to show higher marital conflict than newly retired men with nonemployed wives. However, men who are retired and re-employed with wives who are not employed have a higher morale than couples where neither spouse is working.
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Psychological considerations
-- Assess your motives for retiring. The decision to retire is likely the result of many factors. Whatever the reason(s) for retiring, psychologists should deliberately examine their motives for retiring. Self-reflection may identify personal vulnerabilities that could be magnified by retirement. Addressing these vulnerabilities can help prevent them from posing problems as you wind down your practice or from worsening during your retirement.

-- Take a hard and honest look at your reasons for retirement and the related advantages and disadvantages. Ask yourself:

• Why am I choosing to retire?
• What are my hopes and expectations?
• What personal vulnerabilities might be exacerbated by retirement?

Discuss your answers with family members or colleagues so that you can enter retirement prepared to address any identified vulnerabilities. It may be helpful to consult with colleagues who have already retired.

-- Recognize and address the possibility of burnout. Burnout can be a particularly insidious motive for retirement, and practitioners should address the issue beforehand. The first step is to recognize the early signs: absenteeism, physical complaints, drug and alcohol abuse, insomnia, interpersonal/marital problems, irritability outside the office, decreased work effectiveness, and loss of belief in one’s effectiveness (Farber, 1990). Consider seeking consultation if these factors are interfering with your work or driving your motivation to retire.

-- Cultivate outside interests.
Decreased self-esteem upon retirement is most common for those who have not developed strong outside interests. Cultivating interests outside of psychology well before considering retirement not only may prevent burnout (Stevanovic & Rupert, 2004) but will also provide activities to pursue once you have retired. Without outside interests, it can be difficult to give up the sense of belonging and feeling needed that providing professional services can offer.

-- Consider new challenges you might face as you retire. New stresses are likely to occur with retirement. For example, you will no longer be able to retreat to work and seek support, stability, status, security or routine. In addition, time is less restricted and committed once you retire. This can result in the availability of more choices and increased need for continual monitoring and active personal decision making. Further, motivation becomes less externally controlled. You may need to more actively plan or structure free time and your daily routine than you did prior to retirement. Allow for ample time to make the transition and consider the possibility of retiring in stages, which some practitioners may find preferable.

-- Take practical steps. If you're thinking, "When I retire, I'm going to move to Florida," take your vacations there so by the time you move there, you know a few people. Is there something you've always wanted to do? Take a course and try it out. You have the same issues as the football player, the roofer, the lawyer, when you retire. There are ways you can begin to prepare. Retirement is just a continuation of your career development. Get involved. Engage in life.

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