Social Health has been evolving an integrated model of reflective practice designed to enhance the listening and interpersonal competencies necessary for providing social-emotional-existential support. This is based on principles of mindfulness and a non-theistic form of spiritual companioning.
In March 2020 Social Health began preparing volunteer practitioners to support older adults impacted by isolation and loneliness. Funded by grants from the City of Bayside, City of Glen Eira, and Humanists Victoria, Meaning, Purpose and Connection brought forward 18 people from fields such as psychology, social work, counselling, and pastoral care to learn about the art of creating safe space for deep conversations. In addition to a six-week training program, Social Health has been facilitating ongoing sessions designed to help them detach, debrief and mitigate the secondary traumatic stress impacts associated with this work, as well as experience more meaning, purpose and connection themselves.
More recently, Social Health has begun working with group of 150 medical students who have come together to explore Conversations in Isolation. Created during the height of COVID-19 health crisis, this student-led initiative involves the phoning of community members who have been identified by their local health providers as being at risk of social isolation and loneliness. Social Health is supporting the project by integrating continuous training into regularly scheduled reflective practice sessions, which also provide us with opportunities for observing dyadic work and role playing. It’s our hope that these doctors in training will learn lessons that prove useful in their professional lives and bring about even more positive health outcomes in the future.
” Learning To walk alongside a person experiencing existential loneliness, rather than offer any solution, has been as challenging as it has been rewarding. “
Social Health is engaging with a diverse group of organisations to launch several innovative initiatives.
In cooperation with Melbourne-based Nite Owls Ice Hockey Club and the O’Brien Ice Rink, we are developing a program that encourages club members to meet before or after weekly games for a discussion group. Here club captains are ‘skilled up’ to enable them to support club members dealing with life crises such as a major illness, death or divorce. The meetings are designed to make club members more comfortable being vulnerable, listening during difficult times, and recognising when to refer people on for professional help. The proposal is to extend the program to other sporting clubs in the coming months.
Social Health has begun exploring with Alfred Health/Headspace the development of a year-long leadership development program involving young adults impacted by social isolation who have lived experience of battling adversity (e.g. mental illness, bullying, substance abuse). In addition to helping destigmatise some of these issues, the program will encourage participants to understand how one’s past problems and difficult experiences can contribute to inner growth, productivity/creativity, and long-term health and happiness. Social Health will be serving as project co-designer and fiscal intermediary sponsor as well as trainer/supporter for the mentors involved in the program.
In conjunction with Dying with Dignity Victoria and several other community partners, Social Health will be working to make available a roster of practitioners capable of companioning people at the end of life, including those interested in exploring voluntary assisted dying. Given the stigma that currently exists around this option, now legal in the state of Victoria, as well as the reluctance of most palliative care organisations to discuss VAD with their clients, Social Health envisions a unique opportunity to reduce the possibility that it contributes to more shame and debilitating conditions such as existential loneliness and complicated grief.
” In addition to helping destigmatise some of these issues, the program will encourage participants to understand how one’s past problems and difficult experiences can contribute to inner growth, productivity/creativity, and long-term health and happiness. “
As part of our effort to encourage social-emotional-existential support in institutional settings, at the request of the Australian Royal Navy, Social Health will be convening a national taskforce to determine:
- Standards, guiding principles and support systems being used in settings where secular spiritual carers currently operate;
- Evaluation tools for verifying reflective listening/interpersonal competencies; and
- Models or reflective practice techniques effective in mitigating the secondary traumatic stress impacts associated with this work.
Social Health will soon be convening a similar taskforce to assist in the vetting of competencies of frontline practitioners involved in social prescription programs. Originated in the UK, social prescription involves the use of community-based organisations to support patients referred to them by medical professionals for non-medical related issues including social isolation and loneliness.
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