20 Mar BUILDING COMMUNITY
Posted at 2:24 pm in Uncategorized by jlbworks
By Philip Chanin, Ed.D., ABPP, CGP
(Opening remarks delivered at the evening Gala of the Nashville Psychotherapy Institute, February 11, 1995)
My involvement in the Nashville Psychotherapy Institute (NPI) over the past three years has been the foremost factor in my building a professional and a personal community here in Nashville.
This coming June I will be returning to Amherst College, in Massachusetts, for my 25th College Reunion. Several weeks ago I wrote a letter, to be published along with those of my college classmates. I’d like to share some of that letter with you.
“THOUGHTS ON OUR UP-COMING 25TH REUNION”
“Amherst College changed my life. In fact, for 25 years, I thought that I had changed so much that I could never be happy again living in the South, and so I did not seriously consider returning home to Tennessee. I could not imagine that I wouldn’t find the intellectual environment stultifying and the religious climate oppressive. Moreover, as I entered my forties, I did not think I’d be able to develop the quality and depth of close friendships, particularly with men, that had sustained me through 25 years in New England and Philadelphia.
Then a series of circumstances forced me to reconsider. My marriage ended, managed care tightened its grip on the southern New Hampshire town where I was in private practice, and I could see that the hospital where I consulted half-time might soon go under (within a year it did close, laying off all 100+ employees). I sought an escape from the loneliness of single life in small-town New England, to a city where I might build a new practice and new community.
Thankfully, I’ve found Thomas Wolfe’s injunction (“you can’t go home again”) not to be true in my case. Today, three years later, I feel considerable gratitude that there were still close famiy here, to whom I could return. The New York Times is delivered to my home before breakfast each morning. On Sundays I attend the Unitarian Church, which has met my need for a liberal spiritual community.
I’ve been able to find people who share my passions—for friendship, for books, for the importance of personal psychotherapy and a spiritual community.”
Many of these people, whom I mention in my letter, I have met through the Nashville Psychotherapy Institute. I think we are all indebted to David McMillan, for conceiving the idea of an interdisciplinary organizations of psychotherapists, aimed at providing professional development and a professional community.
At the NPI Smorgasbord in January, Gayle Powers facilitated a panel discussion on “The Hazards of Practicing Psychotherapy.” David Yarian, in his remarks on the panel, used the word “dispirited” to describe many of his patients. According to Webster’s Dictionary, to be “dispirited” is to be “deprived of morale or enthusiasm.” Certainly “dispirited” describes most of my new patients. Usually they are depressed; they have few, if any friends, and minimal sense of community.
Three years ago, I had my first appointment with a patient, aged 45, whose first words to me were, “I’m trying to save my marriage.” As his story unfolded, he told me, “My wife says our only friends are her friends—that I don’t have any close friends…she wants me to develop friends of my own and invite people over…even the neighbors are her friends.”
Yesterday, I had my first appointment with another new male patient. He said to me, “I’m turning 40 this month. It’s really bothering me. My support system is non-existent. I haven’t been able to make many friends. I’m alone most of the time. I go out to bars, but I don’t meet any people.”
To those of you who are psychotherapists, does this sound familiar? Recently, at a meeting at David McMillan’s office, David raised the issue of our responsibility as therapists to assist our patients in building community for themselves.
For most of my adult patients, overall improvement is usually correlated with a decrease in their feelings of social isolation. I refer almost all of my adult patients to group therapy, and what I oberve is that they begin to build a community with others in their groups, and sometimes call other group members for support.
I generally subscribe to the idea that I can only take my patients where I have been able to go myself. One of my goals for the coming year is to continue to work with NPI in encouraging our building of community, with the hope that we will continue to learn how to encourage this for our patients as well.