We Heal In Community
— Lewis, Amini & Lannon, A General Theory of Love
The work of individual therapy is rich and meaningful. We create a safe and sacred space to do the deep intrapsychic work that requires the quiet and security needed to move into and heal old wounds. I attribute much of my own growth and life changes to the work I’ve done in individual therapy. It’s a good part of why I’m so committed to paying it forward.
And yet there are ways that individual therapy can mimic the separation and isolation that we experience in our culture (even before the pandemic). Similar to how so many of us now live—sequestered off behind the closed doors of our homes or apartments, alone or in small nuclear families, separated from the larger tribe—therapy can risk remaining separate from the rest of life. Good therapy will help with integration, allowing clients to bring their fuller selves into their relationships and the world. That is the goal. But, at times, the integration can be challenging and feel like an uphill battle.
As our practice grew, I was seeing that we were treating hundreds of clients, and so many were lonely. There are therapy groups (which we and others host), but most groups are really focused on a specific diagnosis— placing like with like (eg— an eating disorder or anxiety group). There’s great value to these. But there are very few offerings strictly for the purpose of connection, vulnerability, and bolstering each other in growth. I started to think about this whole community of wonderful people that each of us know individually. They are really struggling, but they don’t have access to each other to know that they’re not alone.
Sometimes we have a client who comes to us who is so primed, and ready to do this work. But if you have a person where the ONLY safe space where they can bring their whole self is ONE meeting, 45 minutes a week, and the rest of the time they’re feeling disconnected, disembodied, not a part of their community, and they don’t know how to make contact—it’s NOT enough.
So I decided to create a space for our individual clients to be together. When I brought this forward to colleagues, there was a lot of push back: “There are too many issues around privacy”; “you can’t do a non-therapeutic group with someone who has ‘borderline personality disorder’ with someone who’s ‘bipolar’. It will be a disaster”; “There are too many issues of liability.” And yet, as far as I understand it, whatever our symptoms or diagnoses are, our core struggles are shared. Even if different, they are simply part of our humanity. It started to feel like a moral responsibility to provide a safe space for this community of individuals to come together and support each other. It seemed that by coming together, clients would learn more quickly how to bring their hard work of therapy into a communal realm.
There is so much beauty in being with others who provide acceptance, a welcoming spirit in the midst of vulnerability, where there is no goal other than to see and be seen, and support each other. It’s not therapy, but it’s one of the most important therapeutic tools. It’s a group of people that are all in process, and deeply committed to their own healing and the healing of each other.
I believe that we as mental health providers have a responsibility to our community. We know that loneliness is one of the greatest health risks in our country, deteriorating our individual and communal health and wellbeing. And yet we continue to do little as a field to work towards remedying this.
There are individuals, groups, organizations and countries doing important work to address the loneliness epidemic. Some great examples: Tracy Ruble and the international team of volunteers at Sidewalk Talk; Judith Ashton and the other peer volunteers at Faulkner Hospital’s Allies group; The Institute for Dialogic Practice’s Open Dialogue approach to mental healthcare; The Scottish Government’s funding of The Scottish Recovery Network.
Our Saturday Circle, facilitated by Suzette Cook and Madison Liddle, started with just a couple brave souls who dipped their toes in. We now have 10-12 who come every week. And each time we meet, the Circle grows and shifts. There’s no scheduled commitment. There’s no fee. You just show up. You can choose to come at the last minute, or keep it on your calendar as a recurring appointment for yourself. This is a point of difference in our practice, and our community.
If you’re reading this and you’re a client in our practice, I encourage you to muster up the courage and join Saturday Circle this weekend. You’ll be rewarded by the connections you find. And if you’re not a client in our practice, reach out and let us help you to find a group of fellow seekers to support you in your growth. Fellow mental health providers, let’s think about more ways to bring community together. Reach out, and we’re happy to share what we’re learning. We’re better together!
We welcome suggestions for ways to facilitate more community. Please reach out and share your ideas with us.
There are so many ways to heal. The more true contact we make with ourselves and each other, the healthier we will be as a collective.
Yours in growth,