Thursday, May 19, 2016

Belonging as Therapy

Here’s some late news from the mental health front. If you want to improve your mental health and your emotional well-being, join a group. This will save you an awful lot of time and anguish in therapy. It will also cure you of the absurd notion that you are an isolated human monad, independent and autonomous. As a social being you will function better and will feel better about yourself if you belong to groups. 

The Daily Mail reports the research results:

If you feel you belong with your social group, chances are you are likely to be a happy soul.

Psychologists have found that people the more people feel connected to a group and connect with others, the more satisfied they were with their lives.

The findings show that identifying as part of a group may give people a stronger sense of purpose and security, as well as providing support them when times are tough.

And also,

They add that health professionals should encourage patients to join groups they might identify with, or put more time into groups of which they are already members.


She [Dr. Wakefield] added: 'Healthcare professionals should encourage people to join groups that they are interested in, or which promote their values and ideals, as well as advising people to maintain association with groups they already belong to.

And lest we forget, new research has also shown that people who go to church, who attend religious services live longer than people who do not. Apparently, religion does not poison everything. It helps you to live longer. Take that, Christopher Hitchens... wherever you are.

The Washington Post has the story:

Religious services aren’t just good for your soul — they might be good for your health.

A new study, released Monday in a journal published by the American Medical Association, says that those who attend church services more often actually have a better chance of staying alive in the long run.

Over a 20-year span, the study surveyed a group of more than 76,000 female nurses, most of whom were Catholic and Protestant. At the end of 20 years, more than 13,000 of them had died. The women who went to religious services more than once a week, it turned out, were 33 percent less likely to be in that group who died, compared to those who never attended services.

Tyler VanderWeele, a researcher at Harvard’s school of public health who co-wrote the study, said the effect diminished as the study participants decreased their service attendance. Those who attended services once a week saw their odds of dying go down 26 percent. For those who attended less than weekly, the odds of dying decreased 13 percent, VanderWeele said.

That led the study’s authors to a striking recommendation: “Religion and spirituality may be an underappreciated resource that physicians could explore with their patients, as appropriate,” they wrote. “Our results do not imply that health care professionals should prescribe attendance at religious services, but for those who already hold religious beliefs, attendance at services could be encouraged as a form of meaningful social participation.”

There you have it, the connection with the previous story. Whatever else it does religion gives you “meaningful social connection.”

Why is this so?

“We were a bit surprised, initially, by the magnitude of the findings,” VanderWeele said. He said they found a long list of positive effects: “Service attendance is increasing social support. Through social norms, it’s also decreasing the likelihood of smoking. Perhaps through some of the messages of hope, it’s decreasing depressive symptoms. Perhaps self-discipline, a sense of meaning or purpose in life — it’s not just one pathway.”

Naturally, some physicians are horrified by it all. They insist that medical professionals should not be interfering with a patient’s religious freedom, and should not be promoting religion. But, if it should happen that patients do significantly better when they attend religious services, should a physician deprive patients of information like this:

But VanderWeele said doctors should be aware of the apparent benefits of religious attendance.

One of the team’s most striking findings was on breast cancer. Women who attended services were no more or less likely to contract breast cancer. But those who attended services were substantially less likely to die of it.

“We were quite struck by that,” VanderWeele said. “Maybe it is a sense of hope or of faith, even in the face of illness and disease. A capacity to try to find meaning in the disease experience. Or feeling supported by a community even while struggling with illness. That would be my speculation as to those results. But I do agree it was surprising.”

Is it about God’s will or God’s grace or God’s healing presence? Or is it about the sense of community, the sense of belonging to a community that provides the benefit.

The Post continues:

Daniel Hall, a University of Pittsburgh medical professor not involved in this study who trained as both a doctor and a minister, said that pious people might see this study as affirmation that there is a God listening to the prayers at those worship services, and others might see non-faith-based explanations. “Human beings are so religious in their behaviors. Quite apart from a truth clam in whether there is a God or not, it’s just anthropologically one of the strongest ways human communities are held together,” he said.

Hall said that just as doctors learned in recent decades to be less squeamish about asking about patients’ sex lives, since the information can have medical value, physicians should keep patients’ faith lives in mind.

“Talking about people’s religious beliefs and practices is one of the last taboos,” he said. “Something’s going on there that we ignore. You see something that has that much of an effect? In what way would it be appropriate to come alongside it and understand it — even if you can’t manipulate it in the same way as blood pressure.”


Ares Olympus said...

Interestingly you can do both. When I was in college and my mom died, I went to a $10/session Therapist in training, but didn't last long and I was invited to join a Group Therapy session instead which was a lot more fun than talking about myself.

Or actually I didn't talk much but I'd end up doing a lot of journal writing about what I'd like to say at a meeting if I had a voice, and that was the weirdest thing is I never really had any "safe" opinions during a group meeting, but endless reflections afterwards what I just observed, and later I spoke up more, partly just reading some of my reflections, and I felt some validation that the divisions I "felt" within the group were in fact "real", as some members instantly gravitated towards the center and others were content to remain outsiders, and I imagined myself as a strange bridge between these.

Group dynamics are always interesting. Churches doubly so, and it all seems good when you join a new group of any sort, especially a smaller one, or where over time you slowly get to know people, and everyone's trying to make everyone else feel welcome, and all conflicts are glossed over. And then, even with religous folks, something happens, something arises that presents a difference that no one expected, or wanted to see, and finally some big big mouth mentions the elephant in the room and everyone suddenly scrambles to this challenge.

Later I learned M. Scott Peck talked about this sort of thing in his book "The Different Drum: Community Making and Peace"
Peck says that community has three essential ingredients: Inclusivity, Commitment, Consensus

Based on his experience with community building workshops, Peck says that community building typically goes through four stages:
1. Pseudocommunity: In the first stage, well-intentioned people try to demonstrate their ability to be friendly and sociable, but they do not really delve beneath the surface of each other's ideas or emotions.
2. Chaos: The first step towards real positivity is, paradoxically, a period of negativity.
3. Emptiness: In order to transcend the stage of "Chaos", members are forced to shed that which prevents real communication.
4. True community: Having worked through emptiness, the people in the community enter a place of complete empathy with one another.

Well, there's lots more, but its exciting to me when someone has enough experience to not idealize or devalue belonging, but admits outright the hidden difficulties and degeneracies that happen when people need community to follow a predefined script that is only positive, and only constructive.

Of course religious cults are experts at stage 1, Pseudocommunity, and the simplest answer to this stage is conformity, and if you get a devoted group of people with a common focus (or a common enemy), you can stay with conformity for a LONG time, and that's where all that "brainwashing" stuff comes out, although I'm pretty sure its mostly self-imposed. And psychologists would say everyone's mommy and daddy issues come out with the authority figures of the group, and all the projection can get very confusing.

Of course maybe there's an opposite escape of group large enough that you never get beyond small talk, and everyone stays polite and goes home feeling as isolated as ever. But even that can work, if you're a service oriented person, caring for others in the group, or using the group for collective action within a community. That works too, better than messy inwards focused cults.

So somehow this "belonging" is like a family, but better, because you can walk away, and the problem remains how to avoid walking away when things get messy.

Ares Olympus said...

p.s. I should probably suggest also that Stuart's "Shame culture" fits better within smaller groups where people choose to be together for common purpose, and each one may develop their own ritual structures that enable positive relations and all the plant-like "flourishing" that women like to talk about. So surely that's where Peck's stage 4, "True community" ends up, while perhaps they all still fall back to chaos in an endless loop of relearning as stressors change, and skills only improve in allowing the needed stage 3 emptiness to come sooner with less drama.

sestamibi said...

"Naturally, some physicians are horrified by it all. They insist that medical professionals should not be interfering with a patient’s religious freedom, and should not be promoting religion."

But OK, I guess, for them to invade your privacy by asking if you keep any firearms at home, since this is a BIG public health issue.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

"Naturally, some physicians are horrified by it all. They insist that medical professionals should not be interfering with a patient’s religious freedom, and should not be promoting religion."

Yes, how many quack theories have doctors been peddling for years, starting with that USDA Food Pyramid farce? Or the AMA giving its blessing for ObamaCare, which has been an abject failure?

I do not expect doctors to be perfect, but I do expect them to understand that human health has multiple dimensions. So you can recommend someone go to AA or a Sierra Club meeting for connection, but religion is out of bounds?

Leftism is a religion, with its own dogma and requiring articles of faith.

Religious freedom is not freedom from religion.

priss rules said...

Nutjob strikes again.