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Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Pacific Access Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Judith Hoorn

First Committee Member

Linda Webster

Second Committee Member

Thomas Nelson

Third Committee Member

Thomas Haspel


For many years, research and clinical practice in gerontology has been influenced strongly by cultural concepts that lead to an overall negative perception of the elderly. Recently, psychologists have examined wisdom in order to provide an alternative viewpoint to the negative conceptions of old age. This study investigated how the elderly perceived wisdom and how the psychosocial conflict of “Integrity versus Despair” was experienced by the elderly. The elderly were approached as primary sources of knowledge for their views on wisdom. Using grounded theory methodology, twenty-one volunteer participants, 70 years of age or older, from the Sierra Nevada foothills of California, were each interviewed twice for an hour in order to form an inductive, data-driven theory concerning wisdom. The elderly described wisdom as a multi-faceted construct with a wide range of components. The resulting theory displayed a process by which the foundations of wisdom were formed during a person's lifetime, what developmental processes lead to wisdom, and the ways in which wisdom was demonstrated in a person's life. Of interest to psychotherapists and developmental psychologists, the integration of Erik Erikson's identity conflict of “Integrity versus Despair” may be facilitated through positive thinking techniques used by the elderly to overcome depression and to maintain a positive mood state. Thus, wisdom, as seen from the perspective of the elderly, may provide our society with an alternative conceptualizations of aging and a way to overcome despair in late life. Wisdom may be the pinnacle of human achievement across a lifespan of development.



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