A Note on Community Care
Updated: Aug 5, 2020
by Yordanka Garmenova, Registered Psychotherapist
“Rarely, if ever, are any of us healed in isolation. Healing is an act of communion.”
- Bell Hooks
I have been reflecting on what I find to be the most difficult part of my job. Therapy is mostly about working towards self-growth, but given that none of us live in a bubble, a lot of the time helping clients do the inner work is not enough for lasting change. Lately I have noticed that even therapy content on social media is hyper-focused on individual responsibility. While that’s part of the work, we cannot close our eyes to the way the systems we live in - whether it’s our family, community, culture, the economy, individualism, capitalism, etc. - have a tremendous impact on our struggles and how we cope with them.
When a client is struggling with burnout and is being told that they just need to work on their time management skills and self-care routine, it angers me. Would it help this client to get to know their inner needs so they can meet them? Absolutely yes. However, deep down the client and I both know that this “solution” is just a band-aid, given that the system refuses to change despite the pleas of public health experts. I am basically trying to help someone change their behaviour but only in a way which sustains the toxic environment they are in.
It does not help that we are continuously forced to be more individualistic, when we as humans are social beings and our brains are wired for connection. Nowadays even the way we take care of babies has been transformed by this focus on individualism. We expect that babies, whose brains are barely developed, will have the ability to learn to self-soothe on their own. We get the message that we’re alone from a very early age.
These systems which can breed toxic environments continue to thrive because we have internalized this hyper-focus on individual responsibility. For those of us living in the West, we are often so afraid that we will have to depend on someone, which is ridiculous since we as humans survived in large part because we were part of tribes and in some way each person contributed to the wellbeing of others. I recently have been enjoying listening to Janaya Khan, who does an incredible job of describing what it means to have community care. Janaya discusses this notion of “narcissism of sorrow” to explain how as people we have this tunnel vision for our own pain, and we refrain from sharing this pain with others, which leads to lack of connection and sense of community. Here’s what Khan says:
“The idea of narcissism of sorrow is that it stops us from building together because we keep acting as if we’re in competition, and we keep defending our islands of pain, instead of building bridges, building continents, redesigning the society and this world together.”
The therapy room for some is the place where they can share their sorrow and authentic self for the first time. The magic behind therapy is that there is another human being there with you, witnessing and validating your pain. There is a great amount of neuroscience research which shows that just this simple experience is enough to lead to significant changes in the brain. In order for lasting change to occur, this sense of connectedness and belonging should not end in the therapy room.
So please take some time to reflect on the thing you’re struggling with and consider the multiple layers of this “onion.” You may have more control over some parts but less control, as an individual, over others - usually the ones pertaining to a bigger system (or your genes). That’s when community healing is needed and that doesn’t happen in the therapy room. Given the events so far in 2020, we need community care now more than ever, and the internet is full of people who have been fighting for this for a long time. My hope is that we will tune in, listen, and act because changing the system is the prevention strategy we really need.