Open your mind and take this in – because chances are, like me, you hadn’t really heard this before:
Last month, Jonathan Kanter gave a talk about how love is relevant to the therapy context. He cited a large meta-analytic study that found quite simply the following:
Loneliness contributes as much to mortality as alcohol and smoking and more than physical inactivity/obesity (Holt-Lunstad, Smith & Layton, 2010).
So when we’re talking about the quality of intimacy and social connection in our clients’ lives, when we’re talking about things like trust and betrayal and how can you ‘socially activate’ this week, we’re not talking about some self-actualizing leisure activity that sits atop the hierarchy of needs like an optional upgrade.
We’re talking about a root flesh and bones need of the human organism, with the stakes being our health and longevity. We’re talking about the same type of health and longevity that cancer and cardiovascular disease and car accidents take from us. Those are the stakes.
There’s a lot obviously that we don’t know about how all this works. What types of relationships are needed? What’s the minimal effective dose? Is everyone capable of finding connection?
But take in this basic, study finding – that your relationships, such as they are, are worth as much to your health as the fact that you (I hope) don’t smoke, that you don’t abuse substances, and that you wear your seatbelt.
Then go home or get out your smart phone. How about letting those people know what they mean?
And then think of this: in our professional lives, a similar and substantial body of research shows that sense of community is protective against burnout (i.e. professional death) and predicts positive job engagement (Maslach, 2008).
So slow down again and ask: Are you known in your work? Are you part of a group? Do you carry the strain of the solo practitioner, working behind closed doors? Do you feel alone despite trying to look so good for the colleagues around you?
The crucial thing, I’d venture to say (and the research is with me on this), is not that you have a huge professional network with BBQ journal clubs every month.
It’s that you have a network, however small, in which you are known and appreciated, where the drama of clinical work is the landscape, where someone will shake their head with you in the face of struggle, tell you you’ve got spinach in your teeth with a smile, and remind you what you’re good at when you forget.
PracticeGround Learning Communities are about this kind of support. Whether you’re a member with us or not, I’d like to think that these blog posts matter, so here’s another invitation to make it matter.
Will you reach out to someone you work with and let them know they matter to you? Maybe it’s a short and sweet appreciation. “Hey, just want to say I appreciate your presence on my team. Have a great weekend!” I can’t remember ever receiving a message like that and thinking, ‘What a waste of my time!’ It matters and the price of entry is so low.
Maybe it’s someone you haven’t talked with in years?
Maybe it’s someone you argue with?
Maybe it’s someone you’re afraid of?
Maybe there’s bigger business to deal with?
Still, this appreciation-based shortcut to connection is there for you.
There’s little cost. It doesn’t need to be tearful. It can be a hallmark card or a coffee.
I just reached out to thank a few people in my life. I’ll also take the opportunity to thank you all for being such a truly cool community.