Ruth Gelehrter Da Costa Lopes
Fellow Since 1991
This profile was prepared when Ruth Gelehrter Da Costa Lopes was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1991.
The New Idea
Brazil's rapidly growing number of elderly face the psychologically difficult transition of aging in a society that is going through rapid, profound, and often painful change. Little they know seems still there. Yet, except for the wealthy few, there is no access whatever to psychological help.Ruth is attacking this deficit on two fronts--developing new, economical ways of providing the sort of help that can help most older people, and also stimulating researchers and professionals from various disciplines to work with the elderly.She's begun evolving and demonstrating her approach at a public clinic she runs at the Catholic University in Sao Paulo. This approach rests on a pair of core principles.First, the clinics rely heavily on group therapy. Ruth finds her clients respond especially well, perhaps drawing strength and comfort from such organized contact with their peers. They enjoy the comradeship of discussing together the many upheavals they have lived through. It also helps de-mystify and, for some, de-stigmatize any connection with psychology. Group therapy, along with paraprofessional facilitation, is also the most economical large-scale access service.Second, she's developing a counseling program designed to help older people live fuller, more involved lives rather than to help them prepare for death. Her approach seeks to build on their strengths rather than attend to illness.