Eda Goldstein Returns to the Silver School for Dean's Lecture Series

Eda Goldstein, professor emeritus, spoke at the NYU Silver School of Social Work in September on her paper "The Fate of Vulnerability in the Self During Midlife: Clinical Perspectives." She examined what causes some people to enter a spiral of depression as they hit middle age. She discussed possible treatment, presented a case study, and addressed issues for social workers to consider as they enter middle age. The paper is based on her 2005 book When the Bubble Bursts: Clinical Perspectives on Midlife Issues.

Goldstein's interest in self-psychology began in the early 1980s. She explained, "Self- psychology opened a new window on the problems of adult clients and patients I was working with and invigorated my treatment."

She said everyone has core beliefs and needs, but for some people these are unrealistic. They believe they can control their environment and other people, desperately seek positive feedback, or think they have unlimited time to achieve their goals. When individuals with narcissist vulnerability reach midlife and become reflective about life's "big questions," this undermines their sense of self and "bursts their bubble."

Common triggers for depression include blows to one's self esteem, a catastrophic event, and a realization that the past cannot be changed. For middle-aged people these triggers can appear as the end of a marriage, a job loss, death of a spouse or sibling, and even early retirement.

"The foundation of our work is a therapist's empathy," said Goldstein. But achieving this empathy "especially when many clinicians are also middle age" can be difficult. Social workers must be careful to not view a patient as overly dramatic; they must empathize, but still give hope.

Goldstein presented one of her own cases to the crowded room. The talk was part of the Dean's Lecture Series and one of the School's 50th Anniversary events. She engaged the audience throughout her lecture and drew several lessons from the case study.

When a patient has unrealistic, grandiose expectations, the therapist must help the client accept his or her failures. The therapist must also help the client identify the origins of these expectations -- thereby questioning major assumptions about the client -- and come to terms with what that person can realistically achieve. In the later part of treatment, the clinician must help patients begin to take steps to "get a life."

Goldstein said the fact that many therapists are midlifers influences his or her work. "We are confronting ourselves," she explained. "And we often want to impose our own solutions, which is a problem." In the end, there are no simple ways to navigate this issue. There are patients who have taxed her empathy and have caused her to question herself or "renew old battles."