The world has survived the last few months in self-quarantine. Being physically distant from our near and dear ones coupled by the general uncertainty in the air has heightened our emotional vulnerability. Fuelled by the supply-demand strategy of our capitalist society, the rise in psychological distress was quickly addressed by an unfiltered expansion in the mental health first aid and services. Social media platforms and trending mobile applications introduced various outreach campaigns for psychological well being of their clients.
Before we reach out to a professional, most of us question our existing social support system. We either compare our friend, parent, mentor, experienced adult, seen-it-all sibling, and the agony aunt next door to a therapist or procrastinate the process to test and challenge our thresholds. Apart from people we are surrounded by, we also look up to people we are inspired by, a role model or an influential public figure offering a dose of positivity.
Talking to the right person at the right time is the trick; skipping one of the two steps can increase the risk. But the way psychotherapy and social support system are prioritised needs to be reviewed. A teenager opening up to a stranger without a parental figure or a wife discussing her marital concerns in her husband’s absence are examples of people practicing self-work in a therapeutic space. These individuals are not abandoning their primary support systems but are investing on self to improve the self-other dynamic. It is not about your best friend being your personal on-call therapist or your father being your favourite confidant. It is about differentiating interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics.
Longevity has been long associated with social relationships and purpose of life. The direct and tangible support system may encourage an individual to make healthier lifestyle choices and to seek help when the need strikes. Apart from enhancing the quality of life, personal attachments can contribute substantially to the process of making meaning of one’s life. The role of the support system is to help you cope. There are numerous outlets to begin building a support system: family, friends, spirituality and religion, leisure activity or interest.
Psychotherapy is not competing with the social support system. Rather, it focuses on strengthening its structure and function. It looks at developing relational capacities and balancing dependence and independence. By working on the basic capacities for trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity and intimacy. The involvement of a mental health professional systematically improves the long-term functionality. Psychotherapy helps an individual to develop a support system where none exists. It facilities productive conservations with trusted individuals around. It guides one to create and manage social bonds and resources that one could use in the testing times. It promotes self-dependence and an active and accessible support system.
The author is an arts-based therapist and school counsellor