An Interview with Katharina Dress
Katharina Dress from Aging in Harmony talks about mediating and facilitating for elders and their family members
Posted by Christopher Hewitt (Blog Writer, SevenPonds)
Today, SevenPonds speaks with Katharina Dress from Aging in Harmony, an organization that provides communication support for elders and their families and caretakers. With an MA in Communications from San Francisco State University, Katharina has completed extensive training in mediation, facilitation and conflict coaching training.She now serves as a mediator on the Civil Court Mediation Panel of the Superior Court of Alameda County. She is also a coach for workshops on intercultural and empathic communication, conflict management and older adult mediation. Today, she speaks with us about the communication services she provides through Aging in Harmony.
Christopher: What is Aging in Harmony?
Katharina: Aging in Harmony is a service that helps families and Aging Service providers communicate effectively about the challenges of aging so that they can plan ahead in a collaborative manner and find solutions that meet everyone’s needs.
Christopher: How do you get these conversations started?
Katharina: I offer four different kinds of services. The first service is mediation, where I work with families and sometimes with professional caregivers and their clients, to solve problems surrounding care, estate planning or any kind of aging-related issue. I sit down with them and facilitate conversation in a safe and neutral manner so that they can really understand each other and find creative solutions that work for everyone.
Secondly, In conflict coaching, I work with an individual, typically phone, to help them change the way they communicate these issues so that they can have effective conversations on their own. Many people look for this service when their family members refuse to participate; other times the family all agrees they’d rather have the conversation in private.
The third service is facilitation. Sometimes, not nearly as often as I would like, families realize that it would be good idea to plan together, butthey’re afraid to have the conversation, so they get me to facilitate theconversation and help them plan together.
The fourth is training. I offer workshops anywhere from half an hour to 3 days to help either people who work with older adults or family members to learn the communication skills that I use in my own work.
When I have a phone conversation with a potential client, I start by listening with empathy to what’s going on with her or him, and after about half an hour of that, I say, “well do you have the sense that I really understood where you’re coming from,” and they say yes and I say, “well, would you like to hear what I do and how I might be able to help?”
Christopher: Who most often comes to you for help?
Katharina: Often I get referrals from other professionals, estate planning attorneys, financial managers—all are specialists whom the family might contact first. But typically, I first talk to the adult children, not the elder. The elders don’t typically initiate this process; it’s usually the adult children who get concerned about changes they observe in their parents’ life and then think that something needs to happen. Often they run into a wall when they’re trying to communicate that, so they come to me.
Christopher: What if the parents aren’t up for mediation?
Katharina: A lot of people are afraid this might be the case. But I offer something that few mediators offer: I’m willing to contact the other . In other words, if the daughter is worried that her mother will refuse the process, I can call her and say, without mentioning that I’m a mediator,that her daughter is worried. At that point, the older adult typically starts venting. I start by listening with empathy to what’s going on with her or him,and after about half an hour of that, I say, “well do you have the sense that I really understood where you’re coming from,” and they say yes and I say, “well,would you like to hear what I do and how I might be able to help?”
Katharina’s Tips for Effective Communication between Adult Children and their Parents
Christopher: If you bring a family on board, how many sessions do these conflicts usually take to mediate? How long are your sessions?
Katharina: There is nothing typical in elder mediation. The range of issues is huge. I’ve done anything from one to six sessions with a family. Sometimes the elders aren’t even involved: maybe they’ve passed and the children are in the middle of the grieving process while deciding what to do with the estate,or maybe the elders have dementia to a degree that they can’t participate in the conversation anymore.
Estate planning issues, power of attorney issues, finances are all very common, and the earliest conflict in a lot of families is when to give up the car keys.
With me, a session is typically 3 hours—that’s how much time it takes to accomplish anything, because first people just have to vent, get empathy and get heard. Only after a break can we usually start talking about potential solutions
Christopher: What are some common issues you see?
Katharina: Estate planning issues, power of attorney issues, finances are all very common. The earliest conflict in a lot of families is when to give up the car keys. But the issue I frequently see is whether to move or not to move,and if so, where. Often, the children are concerned about parents living alone and their first idea is to move them into assisted living, but there are a lot of things that they can do to make their parents’ homes a safe and healthy place to live. There can be many solutions to meet everyone’s needs. The challenge is to get the elder to accept help. Often, they do it as a gift to the children—the gift of peace of mind, which is part of the beauty of . They don’t ever have to admit they need help. Once they see what a burden it is for their children, then they accept help for their children’s sakes.
Christopher: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
Katharina: One thing is how to find a mediator. There are two websites I would recommend. Go to mediate.com and under“Type of Matter” select “Elder”. The other one is eldercaremediators.com. And foranyone in the area, I serve the greater bay area.
I’d also like to mention an upcoming training that I’m offering. It’s called “Create Harmony for Family Gatherings: A Participatory Workshop forParents, Adult Children, Family and Professional Caregivers and Mediators.” It will be held on June 6-7, and you can find more information on my website.
Christopher: Thank you for speaking with us today, Katharina!
Katharina: Of course, thank you!
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