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What is Validation Therapy?

Higher Education Articles August 26, 2013

It’s estimated that nearly twenty percent of the U.S. population will be over 65 years of age by the year 2030. In addition to the joys of a longer life, family members and professional care providers must find new ways to support the aging with dementia, Alzheimer’s and other end-of-life challenges. Validation Therapy can be an important tool for helping families cope with disoriented loves ones and improving communication between care providers and elderly patients.

The Basics of Validation Therapy

Validation Therapy was developed by Naomi Feil, M.S.W., A.C.S.W. and is based on Humanistic Psychology. Feil literally grew up learning how to communicate with the aged; living on-site, her parents were administrators of an old-age home in Cleveland, Ohio. As a professional working with the elderly, Feil became frustrated with the traditional methods of communicating with those who suffered from severe dementia or disorientation. Validation therapy was born from her desire to improve the quality of life for the patient and ease the stress of the care provider. After nearly two decades of study, Feil published her first book on the theory in 1982.

Validation Therapy was specifically developed for use with normally healthy older people who are exhibiting symptoms of dementia. The method relies on non-verbal and verbal techniques that can be learned and practiced by anyone – professional and non-professional care providers.

The Goals

According to the North American Validation Association, the goals of Validation Therapy are:

•To reduce stress for the elderly and their care providers
•Improve physical comfort of the elderly
•Increase communication, both verbal and non-verbal
•Improve the level of alertness of the elderly
•Re-energize care providers

The Theory

While specific methods and instruction are offered through certified workshops, the centering theory of Validation Therapy is that most elderly dementia patients are struggling to resolve their life’s unresolved issues in order to prepare for their imminent passing. Verbal and non-verbal behaviors that might not appear to make sense may be the patient’s way of satisfying a human need. Behaviors are classified in four categories: Malorientation, time confusion, repetitive motion and vegetation. For example, if an elderly person develops the habit of sucking on his fingers (repetitive motion), he may be attempting to self-soothe (satisfy a basic human need). The basic needs include a need to be nurtured, a need for stimulation of the senses, the need to reduce physical or emotional pain and the need to feel loved.

In other words, Validation Therapy suggests that most of the behaviors related to dementia represent a deep-seeded psychological need and are not simply the random actions of a compromised brain. According to Validation Therapy, when patients are treated with empathy and understanding instead of automatically being medicated for or encouraged to stop the behavior, they can work through their end-of-life issues and gain greater peace of mind.

And, when care providers accept the elderly as they are instead of as a set of behaviors that need to be managed, their work may become less stressful and more satisfying. Validation Therapy seeks to make life more enjoyable for the elderly, but also for those that love and care for them.

Validation Therapy is practiced across the globe. Workshops have been offered throughout Europe and North America, and Feil’s books have been translated into at least nine languages. Coursework and other resources are available through the North American Validation Association, including information for family members caring for the elderly at home.

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