Meet Jael Weinberg, a creative arts therapist who works with people who have Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss. One of her co-workers describes Weinberg as an “old soul” who feels art can create widespread social change.
What do you do? I am the life enrichment director and a therapist at Callahan House in Shoreline, one of Aegis Living’s memory care communities. … In my role, I oversee the social, cognitive and emotional care of the residents. This means I do everything from planning parties, like our family Thanksgiving brunch and a 100th birthday party for a resident, to designing new activity programming (meditation, virtual trips to the Louvre, garden therapy, etc.), supporting the families of residents, facilitating therapy groups, having individual therapy sessions with residents, consulting with nursing and care staff and much more.
How did you get started in that field? I wanted to be a therapist for most of my life. I am also an artist, and creativity has always been a part of my identity. When I discovered the field of art therapy, I knew that was what I wanted to pursue. While getting my master’s degree from NYU, I interned at Mount Sinai Hospital in the geriatric psychiatric inpatient unit. There, I learned I absolutely love working with older adults.
What is a typical day like? I begin every day by meeting with the nursing and care staff to understand which residents may need special support that day. I update my life-enrichment team on plans for the day; I spend time booking special guests, performers and visiting specialists. I have individual therapy sessions with residents almost every day and email families updates about their loved ones. I host art therapy group or another activity such as my historical lecture series and spend time planning our next innovative program to fulfill the residents’ changing needs. In memory care, adaptation and the unexpected are always a given, so each day always looks a little different!
What’s the best of the job? I am a mental health counselor who gets to work in a unique setting and in diverse ways to bring the most effective support to people who need it. Getting to help make my residents feel valued, connected and appreciated is the best part of my job. The people I work with have complex, beautiful, important life stories, and I am a part of making their lives as fulfilled as possible. I lead a team of women doing work that betters the days of others, and I get to do it while utilizing many of my passions.
What surprises people about what you do? Everyone is surprised when I tell them my job is genuinely joyful. Dementia can be devastating; it can be painful and frustrating. Yet, joy can be found everywhere. People are surprised that working in this field means my days are full of many moments of beauty instead of sadness. People long to feel seen and understood, and I have the privilege of simultaneously validating the sad and frustrating moments my residents experience while celebrating each moment of happiness and connection.