Social Health Australia is a new non profit and emerging community committed to companioning people through times of crisis.
Our approach has been largely informed by the field of spiritual or pastoral care. This emotional-existential support is usually made available, and often publicly subsidised, in settings such as hospitals, aged care facilities, prisons, universities and the military. Spiritual care is theologically-informed and often aims to help a person find ultimate meaning during times of crisis. Social health is rooted solely in human connection. This connection is intended to foster compassion – which literally means ‘to suffer together’ – and encourage reflection so that life’s challenges might be regarded as a natural part of the human experience.
Social Health intends to primarily serve individuals who would prefer, or would find it problematic, to receive theologically-informed spiritual care. This includes those who do not identify as religious; are fearful of evangelism or agenda; and/or have experienced shame or abuse because of religion.
The vision, approach and ethos for Social Health has been inspired by a number of sources. They include pioneering thinkers like Carl Rodgers, who left his religious studies and moved into a field where his thinking would not be curtailed in order to help bring about humanistic, person-centred counselling; Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl who made significant contributions to the field of existential therapy including authoring the seminal ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’, and perhaps most significantly, Jon Cabot-Zinn who helped meditation become more accessible as mindfulness, by moving it away from its Buddhist roots.
In a manner similar to Cabot-Zinn, Social Health intends to remove the theological-underpinnings from spiritual care so that it might be more easily acceptable to that part of the Australian public that would prefer an alternative to, or might otherwise reject, conventional spiritual care. And as with Cabot-Zinn, a practicing Buddhist himself who ensured that mindfulness would not diminish Buddhism, Social Health aims through its work never to undermine the faith community.
Social Health believes that every person, regardless of their belief system, has a right to receive help when dealing with illness, transition, grief or loss when this support is provided in a setting, particularly those subsidised by the government. We are also committed to extending that same fairness to those who companion people during difficulties so that they are not only properly vetted for having the competencies to take on this work, but also provided with the support that they need, and never required to be religiously affiliated or theologically trained.
Our organisation does not agree with the thinking that any properly trained person should be able to support any person dealing with adversity. Given the importance of the quality of the connection necessary for the conversations that meaningful companioning can bring about, Social Health sees great value in allowing those in need to have a say regarding who they want supporting them. Such agency it is believed will allow more kinds of people to access this support.
Because of the growing evidence suggesting that people in crisis are more able to connect with someone to whom they can relate, Social Health sees it as imperative that we demonstrate an openness to bringing forward support people from many kinds of backgrounds, who hold many different world views, which offer many different ways of allowing people to feel heard, make meaning, and move through difficult moments. We see bringing about this kind of inclusivity as critical to our success.
Social Health is committed to exploring how new programs can be delivered in new settings, especially ones where conventional spiritual care does not operate. We believe that this approach will allow us to reach people who may otherwise fall through cracks in the current system of care. Our hope is that it will also open up new avenues of dialogue that will contribute to much needed innovation regarding how people in crisis can be supported.
Finally, Social Health understands that we must move beyond calling attention to the deficiencies associated with conventional spiritual care. We realise it is equally important to not assimilate the attitudes and actions that have harmed people in the past. That’s why Social Health is committed whenever possible (and it’s almost always possible) to embrace positivity as a guiding principle that informs all the ways we evolve our new model of emotional-existential support. We also believe doing so will make the Australian public far more receptive to our work.
Social Health is led in its start-up phase by Joe Sehee (Director) and Ally Scott (Programme Development) with additional guidance provided by a steering committee comprised of Rod Bower, President, Humanists Victoria; Meredith Doig, President, Rationalist Society of Australia; Neale Roberts, Manager of Spiritual Support Services, Canberra Hospital; Collin Acton, Director General – Chaplaincy at Royal Australian Navy; John Davey, Social Health Advocate, and Annie Whitlocke, Buddhist Spiritual Carer, Monash Medical Centre.