I Really Want To Share This - Friendship Bench
I really want to share this article, and wonder what feelings it evokes in you as you read it.
It describes how a psychiatrist in Zimbabwe noticed that there were so many people struggling with depression and other emotional pain who had so little access to mental health professionals. There were way too little mental health professionals to support this massive demand. Many of these people struggled to live on and some sadly, succumbed to their emotional pain by taking their own lives.
Shaken and yet under-resourced, he desperately trained a handful of neighborhood grannies on basic counselling processes, and set up Friendship Benches in public places where people in need could come talk to these grannies. These grannies also used their cultural knowledge and wisdom accumulated through a lifetime of their own struggles to Listen, and to help.
People started getting better. Anyone in pain could just visit a Bench and talk their hearts out, laying out the agonies they have had to carry privately.
Better still, the mental health of these grannies seem to improve despite the burden of Listening to and sharing so much emotional pain. They felt that what they did was so very meaningful.
In one of our earlier posts we wrote about communities. This article again reminds me of the power of communities, and how the simplest initiatives and the “simplest” of activities (i.e., Listening) can build healthy communities.
As I read this article, I felt really moved. And also really excited.
THIS was the type of therapy I wanted to practice, if practicalities and finances weren’t an issue. THIS was therapy at its most bare and basic, and hence its best.
It’s built on human connection, and the sharing of emotional pain that alone, is too much to bear. But with the sharing of it, it become bearable, seen, and acknowledged. And starts to have room to transform – from secret to open, from shame to self-worth, from pain to growth.
In my previous post on BTS, I talked about Listening and how human connection is the key to healing emotional anguish. Research has shown that connecting to people and to life lifts depression and helps people find meaning. Just like it did for the people who sought out the grannies, and the grannies themselves.
In this post, I’m wondering if we should also set up Friendship Benches so that there are public places for Listening and being Listened to.
Imagine what happens if everyone Listens to one another. I Listen to your woes and struggles, and you Listen to mine. It becomes a Listening community, strangers become not quite strangers but still able to stay as anonymous as they prefer.
In fact, it isn’t hard to set up a Friendship Bench. All it takes is a bench and a sign that invites people – like those Free Hugs signs or Justice of the Peace signs – to come and talk.
It can even be set up in schools where kids are taught to Listen to one another.
And the basics of Listening isn’t too grueling as well – you deliberately shut up, pay full attention to the other person’s story, and take it in as fully as you can. Almost anyone, with practice, can do it.
I feel a quickening in my blood just by thinking of the possibilities.