Sonya Barsness Reflects on BEING SEEN

April 05, 2018
Laura Beck, The Eden Alternative

I really enjoyed this opportunity to hear from Sonya Barsness about her project, BEING SEEN.  Check out this interview to tap into the power of presence and how being seen is a fundamental need for those who live with dementia.  Sonya will take the stage on the morning of Friday, May 4th at the 2018 Eden Alternative International Conference.

Click here to see what Sonya is rising up for.

Read Sonya’s latest blog posted on BEING SEEN entitled, “Being Seen: A Passion Project.”

LB: What inspired BEING SEEN and how did it unfold for you?

SB: The story we have created about aging has not been built from the ground up. It does not represent the diversity of how we each experience growing older and who we are and become. Even in gerontology, we have tended to put elders in boxes – frail, successful, active, etc.  In working to change the culture of aging and how we care for each other, I heard the voices of many of these elders, especially those who were living in nursing homes, or living with dementia. Underlying their experiences was this theme of invisibility. Not being known. I felt such sadness and frustration that we weren’t doing better for them.

I wanted to get out of the boxes, and go outside the walls of the nursing homes and other types of communities. I wanted to go to the root- get back to the PERSON in person-centered care.  I kept coming back to this under-represented reality that we really don’t see people for who they ARE, as individuals, as they grow older.  Sometimes we only focus on who people WERE. And sometimes we only see people as how we think they should be, or how they fit a certain role for us (e.g. patient, resident, frail, spry, etc.).  And we almost never talk about who an elder WILL BE. But underlying this is who an elder IS. So I wanted to create a place where people could BE SEEN.

LB: As this work has evolved, what has surprised you or touched you most deeply?

SB: I think the term “evolved” perfectly describes this experience. Although I started with this idea, it has unfolded in different ways and elders continue to unpack it for me so I can better get to this nugget of what it means to be seen. The process itself has been so eye-opening – to understand how people think about being seen, invisibility, and what this means for all of us.

LB: What is the message you hope to share through your general session?

SB: To be curious about who we are as we grow older, and to pay attention to who each individual is, not just as an older person, but as a multi-dimensional human being.

LB: As an advocate/activist, how do you most want to effect change?  What do you wish to rise up for?

SB: I wish to rise up for people being heard and seen as they grow older and grow with dementia. This needs to drive everything we do to support each other as we grow older.

Click here and register for the 2018 Eden Alternative International Conference.

2 Comments. Leave new

It is really great to hear what you are working on Sonya. I think being seen is a powerful concept. I totally agree that healthcare training puts Elders into boxes, the “young old,” “the old,” and “the old, old.” What the heck does that even mean in terms of how I interact and support them. Labels are so constricting. Please keep sharing what you are learning from Elders. That journey is coming soon to my doorstep and I have a lot to learn so I will be wise about being seen too.


Thanks, Denise! There is so much to learn. I am so glad to be in good company.


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