12 Mar 2008

Emotional Support for a million people

Posted by paulandrew

sm_crowd-sxchu-798270_79316202_c_griszka_niewiadomski.jpgThere was a fascinating article in the New York times about a program to provide psychotherapy services, at a very low cost, in Goa, India. The model has two parts, medication and “talk therapy” and involves giving simple training to locals who go out and provide the services.

And it works! An excerpt from the article:
Speaking in Konkani, the predominant Goan language, she told the counselor that she was not getting along with her four children, especially her son, who had recently beaten her up in a drunken rage. She said she had no one to talk to. Holding tightly to her handkerchief, she began to cry.

Within minutes, she began to relax. Her expression loosened.

‘I feel better when I tell my problems to somebody else,’ she said.
Now granted, Supportive Listening isn’t therapy, and of course doesn’t involve medication. But the idea that simple training could be rolled out, at low cost, to many people, that would enable them to support others–now that sounds both familiar and exciting.

This reminds me of a funny story about technological change. Back in the very early days of the telephone, any time you made a phone call, you talked to an operator who manually connected cables so that the call could go through. As the volume of calls grew, it was projected that there would be a great shortage of operators–so much so that “to support the call volume, every man, woman, and child would have to become a telephone operator.”

And as the story goes, that’s exactly what happened–new technology was invented (i.e. the rotary dial phone) that enabled you to connect your own call, and in effect become your own telephone operator. Those operators haven’t gone away, but they do much more specialized things now.

I see a clear parallel with Supportive Listening. Effective psychotherapy can be fantastically effective for a wide range of life issues, from small to large. However it is expensive, making it out of reach for many. While there many serious issues that require professional help, there is a much broader range of every day life challenges that can be effectively supported by those around us.

Thus, just as the rotary dial telephone made telecommunications available to more people, I think that the “technology” of Supportive Listening could make effective emotional support much more readily available.

Now imagine the impact on the world, or your local community, or even just your circle of friends, if everyone had people to turn to, who could reliably support their growth, plus offering short term relief, through great listening.

Thus, it is with great excitement that I read this article about a project to bring the benefits of emotional support to a large population of people. These are the early days, and the possibilities are energizing.


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