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The World Needs Social Therapy!

Thank you David Brooks for your recent thoughtful commentary titled Hey America, Grow Up. We appreciate your invitation to build a new culture that supports maturity, community, empowerment and well-being. We agree that the dominant individual-focused, victim-centered therapeutic culture has failed us.

We have good news for you! There is an approach that addresses your call for an other-centered ethos; Social Therapy. Let us introduce you to who we are. We are social therapeutic practitioners who are helping people around the world create our mental health, together.

Social therapeutics, an already established group and relationship approach to mental health, supports us to be world-citizens, and offers tools for seeing and living with others. We are a platform for healing and growing that is relational, community-centered, cultural, philosophical and playful. Practitioners on this lesser-walked path advance a practice of therapeutics that helps open eyes, ears and hearts to The Other and frame emotional health as community building.

We are all victimized in an individualized world that is not built for us humans, as we are fundamentally social. We are one of several therapeutic movements since the 1950s that have created alternative social-cultural-relational practices that support our mental health, power and agency. Emotions are social. Narcissism, lack of meaning and self worth, depression and anxiety are culturally, socially, politically created, even though we might experience them individually. For example, you mention the current mental health crisis manifesting in increased rates of suicide, depression, hopelessness and loneliness. What we add is that mental health crises spike up with world crises, like the financial collapse of 2007-8, or the global pandemic, or wars around the world, or currently living with the reality of climate change alongside the lack of a serious response from world leaders.

Perhaps the overuse of the trauma label, cries for safe spaces, critiques of helicopter parenting and snowflake-ness are ordinary people's attempts to make meaning of and respond to a world in crisis, a world that is frightening and, for some, untenable. One response is to re-initiate our sociality - this is our mission as social therapeutic practitioners. We, with our clients and communities surrounding us, advance therapeutics as a way of life. Living daily life relationally versus individually allows for all kinds of possibilities: Feeling lonely? Call someone. Feeling fragile and offended? Ask for help to slow down and respond versus react. Hate yourself / lacking in confidence / overwhelmed by fear? Be reminded that those emotional experiences are socially produced and do not belong to you.

We offer therapeutic groups around the world that create hope, build community and open up possibilities. Every week social therapy groups engage in the very activity you implore: “the best life is a series of daring explorations launched from a secure base.” That secure base is the group - where we weave a social and “other-absorbed” environment. The group takes responsibility for building a therapeutic community together. That IS the therapy. There’s agency for you! We invite a continued dialogue and ways to create a new culture of community and mental health.

Jennifer Bullock, M.Ed.M.L.S.P., LPC is a social therapist, relationship coach based in Philadelphia PA. How Jennifer's group members describe the social therapeutic process:

  • Group has allowed me to better implement healthier and more transparent relationships. This has allowed for a healthier living, as well as a way to better deal with stress and build-up of negative thoughts and feelings.

  • Group has allowed me to become a more intent listener and relate to people on an deep level that I may not have found much in common with at first impression.

  • Group provides me a place to work on having fully responsible authentic interactions

  • Group has, unquestionably, changed all of my relationships including the one I have with myself. It has helped me learn that sometimes others can see what I need more than I can and that there is always something for me to learn from someone else's struggles

Marian Rich is a social therapeutic coach and performance activist. Along with her colleague, Dr. Jessie Fields, she co-leads Creating Our Mental Health, a free monthly drop in conversation at the Harlem Food Bank and other community organizations. This is what one participant wrote as a response to a recent workshop:

  • Thank you for your poem Dr Fields. What a big burst of self awareness, becoming strong therapy! What I witness in your poem/story is how often we take for granted our blessing. This lesson shows me how people can come together not realizing the offerings they execute of freedom, fellowship and sharing of each other - race, culture and a feel of contentment, and leaving with the feeling we are one family relying on one another becoming the biggest family of all, which becomes the biggest blessing we can share with each other. I love all my brothers and sisters for this life experience.


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