Later Life Transitions: Retirement

On May 19, 2023, the Aging Issues Committee began a series of six luncheon series presentations on Later Life Transitions. David DiCicco, Ph.D. led the first discussion that explored challenges to retirement including internal and external barriers to the process. The essay below aims to summarize the discussion with some theoretical material from the works of Erik Erikson and George Valliant.

Most psychologists are familiar with Erikson’s stages of adult development and they form the backdrop for understanding the aging process. Those stages are psychosocial identity, the capacity for intimacy, career consolidation, and generativity.

Our group discussed planning for retirement. Some planning is possible, though new interests and activities may develop post-retirement. I knew I wanted to play golf and ski, but I had no idea I would write mystery stories daily. It is crucial to be open to and pursue new interests if passion exists. Julian Meltzoff became a respected sculptor after he retired. Lessons are available for almost any interest.

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It was as if I had walked into a family celebration. Except it wasn’t my family! As soon as we sat in Alforon, a Lebanese restaurant on El Cajon Blvd., we were greeted first by a friendly young waitress and then by an attractive older woman, who sat down and told us she would help our group order. She welcomed our friends who had dined at the eatery once before, and then she took over in a caring, fun way.

We ordered hummus with homemade flatbread along with a tasty beet salad. As entrees, we had lamb and beef dishes. Our helper suggested several desserts, all of which were delicious. Award-winning Chef George Salameh stopped by the table, talked with us, and suggested I try Lebanese coffee. Served in copper mini pots with small cups, the coffee was delicious.

Later I chatted with Chef Salameh, a friendly, open man whom one couldn’t help but like. When we left, our waitress hugged us, and Chef said goodbye. We all agreed we had entered an experience beyond the menu. In an era of overpriced, precious, trendy restaurants, Alforon provided us with a beautiful meal in a warm, upbeat atmosphere with caring staff who introduced us to another culture.


Though a big man, he walked softly with a light step. Dressed in black, I said, “Well, Bond is here.” Carrying himself with a quiet but authoritative presence, he walked to the straight-backed chair and sat down. Was 007 really in my house? No, but clinical psychologist Richard Levak, Ph.D. was.

Born in Czechoslovakia and raised in London, Richard graduated from CSPP and quickly established himself as an authority on the MMPI. Over the years, he has written several books and numerous articles and taught many of us about this important and fundamental test of personality and psychopathology. He has been very generous with his time, as many members of SDPA know.

I have always liked “Bond’s” lifestyle. He surfs or plays volleyball most days on the beach at Del Mar, a few blocks from his office. Many locals know him. I have been in Del Mar dining spots several times when Richard and his wife entered. “Rock star” is probably too strong, but Richard seems to know many locals as he moves from table to table, greeting people. 

Richard consulted the producers of the “Survivor” show for many years. He helped the producers pick out contestants through the use of the MMPI. He opened doors for psychologists, as others followed suit and became reality show consultants. 

Some years ago, Richard, an expert skier, inadvertently dashed through a gate at Mammoth Mountain that led him away from the ski area into the backcountry. Lost for three days, he made a large SOS sign out of tree boughs. On a final pass, a helicopter spotted him, and Richard was safe. He later wrote a sizeable check to the rescue service.

Richard Levak, a man of the mountains and oceans, has enormously contributed to the field of psychology, SDPA and the community beyond. Every once in a while, I listen closely and hear the sound of an Aston Martin climbing the steep grade up Del Mar Heights Road. For a moment, I imagine Bond is in town once more.

Richard Levak, Ph.D. continues to practice psychology and to provide consultation to other professionals. His MMPI interpretation books are de rigueur for practitioners. He has been a member of SDPA since 1988. For many years he was chair of the Public, Education and Media Committee and was known as “The Face of SDPA” to the public media. Dr. Levak is dedicated to training other psychologists to make presentations of psychological information to the public, particularly in times of crisis. He currently leads a Case Conference Dinner Series at Sbicca Del Mar for SDPA members.

New Amsterdam

New Amsterdam is a medical drama that is currently playing on Netflix. Set in New York City, the show occurs in a fictional public New York hospital modeled after Bellevue. Originally on network TV, the series recently came to the streaming device.

Mental health providers may like the show because it portrays the problems inherent in delivering competent care within bureaucratic obstacles, staff issues, and underfunding. The show is unafraid to tackle complex, thorny problems permeating our society. These include gender, drug abuse, family violence, and racism.

Though the series chronicles serious issues, it does so with compassion, considerable humor, and fascinating characters. The lead actor in the show is Max Goodwin, the medical director. The actor who plays him is highly skilled and does a beautiful job being irreverent, intelligent, caring, and determined.

In some ways, the show is psychologically sophisticated. However, ironically the man who plays the psychologist has an inferior script with which to work. Many of his interventions don’t make sense and are unrealistic.

Though new Amsterdam has shortcomings, I have found it entertaining, moving, and engaging. The show could rightly be criticized for providing too many feel-good outcomes, and some scenes are unrealistic. For example, the patients wander freely around the hospital, including the ER. Some staff relationships are convoluted and hard to imagine in a hospital.

Try the show and see what you think.

Never Been Better!

When the wind sweeps across Northern Minnesota, even the ice fisherman, snowmobile people, and cross-country skiers go indoors. From Ely to St. Paul, doors are closed tight, wood burns, and traffic is sparse. One man swore he saw a giant otter driving a van. The sad fact is that no one became alarmed.

Most hockey players at my college came from Canada, Massachusetts, or Minnesota. We all became acquainted with places like Thief River Falls, Duluth, and Mankato. The National Hockey League’s Hall of Fame is even in Minnesota.

Hugh Pates didn’t play ice hockey but scored the basket that won the State Championship for his high school fifty years ago. Even now, when he returns to St. Paul, people will approach him and talk about that game! 

One might think that Hugh went on to play college ball after high school, but no, he didn’t. He became a monk! He studied, prayed, and contemplated; he became a Catholic priest in 1963. However, his desire to serve others clashed with his wish to have more intimate and meaningful relationships, and, decisively, Hugh left the priesthood after ten years. 

In short order, Hugh departed from the land of ice, snow, and mosquitoes for graduate school in California. Hugh had classes at the United States International University with Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow, Viktor Frankl, and Fritz Perls. 

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Running Water

In the Spring
running water,
skimming over rocks,
through the trees,
in the spring,
when melting snow, 
leaves no trace,
like it was never there,
but for the rushing water,
the crumbling trails,
under a new sun,
a new time,
in the descending forest.

Kevin’s Pancakes

My late friend, Kevin O’Grady from Beverly, Massachusetts made wonderful buttermilk pancakes. If you want your guests saying, “wow”, try his recipe!

2 eggs at room temperature
2 tbls of melted margarine or butter
2 cups of buttermilk at room temperature
2 cups of flour
2 tsps of baking powder
4 tbls of sugar
1/2 tsp of salt

Preheat your griddle to 400 degrees. Grease with a non-stick substance. Beat eggs, milk, and melted butter, add dry ingredients. Mix just enough to make a creamy batter with some lumps. It is important not to over mix.  If the tops of the pancakes bubble but the bottoms don’t brown, the heat is too low. If they brown before they bubble, the heat is too high. Don’t let the batter stand. It will thicken.

Makes 18 four-inch pancakes.

Crossword Puzzles

They say crossword puzzles are food for the aging brain. Is that true? A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that people with mild memory problems who did web-based crossword puzzles showed improvement in cognition and experienced less brain shrinkage, compared to those who played web-based cognitive games. For commentary on this study see an article from Harvard Health Publishing entitled Have You Done Your Crossword Puzzle Today?

Whether crossword puzzles improve cognition or not, they are fun and engaging. I started doing them a few years ago, beginning with easy puzzles. Gradually I worked on puzzles that were harder as I learned the ins and outs of the puzzles. 

The creators of crosswords have certain tricks one has to learn to do them. They like words that have double meanings depending on the context. One has to think beyond the obvious. It also helps to be up on pop culture as questions often focus on film and music stars.

Many daily puzzles like those from the Washington Post become more challenging through the week. I only want to spend so much time on crosswords, so I stay away from ones like the Sunday New York Times.

Some fun puzzles found on the internet are:

The Washington Post
The Atlantic
USA Today

Aging and Adaptation

If there is one word that captures the key to successful development across all species, it is probably “adaptation.”

Life has constantly been changing from day one. Weather changes, environments change, people change, and circumstances change. Adaptability is crucial if a person is to move forward successfully.

It makes sense that a good prognosis for successful adaptation in later life is a prior history of flexibility and effective adjustment. Most people will face challenges as they age, so the ability to change direction when necessary is crucial for successful living.

So, what are some problems many will face in their senior years? Certainly, health issues must rank high on the list. Health problems are not only intrinsically difficult, but they have ramifications in many other areas. Hearing loss affects social life and can push a person toward social isolation. Joint replacements and arthritis can end an active lifestyle. What does one do, then?

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