How Peer Specialists Can Help People Connect to Faith Communities

Helping peers connect to faith communities

Helping peers connect to faith communities

Almost everyone needs to connect to at least one community, whether they’re going through trauma and emotional distress or not.  With rare exceptions, isolation is lonely, ultimately unsustainable,and sometimes dangerous.  You can’t build your sense of self-worth in isolation.

People often connect to faith communities, which provide a community connection, social support, and a spiritual life — three things that help people in distress get through to the other side.

For people dealing with long-term emotional difficulty, making community connections can be extra hard, because they often have low opinions of themselves, and think everybody they meet will as well.  Or, their moods sap their energy, and they don’t feel like doing anything or talking to anyone.

Not Everyone Can Connect to Faith Communities

For years, I could not connect to faith communities because the national leaders of the one I grew up in, and worked for right out of school — people I’d been brought up to admire — traumatized and rejected me cruelly.

But 30 years later, I was invited to a reunion of the youth program I directed in the ’70’s, thanked, and recognized by people who attended or worked on my staff.  The people who hurt me were long gone. “My kids” were running it now. Many of them were leading their own youth programs and faith communities.

I saw my success, and the role I played in the life of that program and many of the people it touched.  I stopped being angry about those years.  Facebook let me connect to them again, and two years later, I began to connect to faith communities where I live.

What My Faith Community Means in My Life

Temple Beth Jacob Education Committee, Concord, NH

Temple Beth Jacob Education Committee, Concord, NH

I don’t think much about God, or what I believe, like I did when I was younger.  My faith community is all about community connection, healthy activities, and social support.  Any positive community or group of communities can do what my faith community does for me.

When I was able to connect to faith communities again, I became a happier, less lonely, less isolated person.

As a self-employed full-time writer working at home, and prone to isolation that sometimes becomes dangerous, I need something to do with people outside the house every day.

Once I could connect to faith communities, I had adult education on Wednesdays and Sundays, Sabbath and holiday worship, two choirs to sing in (one where I play my washtub bass), two committees to serve on, and a supportive circle of people where everybody knows and accepts me.

I cook meals for sick people.  Cooking is one of my favorite wellness tools and creative activities.  Living alone, I usually just throw something on the stove or under the broiler.

Peer Support Helped Me Connect to Faith Communities

My peer support specialist, and dear friend, Corinna West, helped me connect to faith communities when I was ready.

Despite a mountain of evidence that a lot of people like me, the rejection I suffered from 5th grade until I was 30 left a self-hating voice in my head.  I’m outgrowing it, and becoming more self-confident and self-loving thanks in large part to Corinna’s influence. My connection with her has given me courage to connect with other people.

When I tried to connect to faith communities after 30 years, I was intimidated by all those married couples, who gathered in closed circles to talk after services and events. I’m single, in my early ’60’s, and I felt married couples didn’t want to include mature single men.  So I’d attend an event and go home, without talking to anyone, thinking it was everyone else’s idea, not mine.

Corinna, who is better at talking to strangers (networking) than anyone I know, said “Go join their circles, and they’ll talk to you.” She was right.

Peer Specialists Help People Connect to Faith Communities

Now, there’s a formal program to help peer specialists help people connect to faith communities.

Temple University, Philadelphia, PA

Temple University, Philadelphia, PA

The Temple University Collaborative on Community Inclusion recently began to teach peer specialists to help diagnosed people connect to faith communities — to identify local religious/spiritual groups, and accompany people to prayer or social events, etc.

Peer specialists can also help religious congregations reach out, change attitudes, or build acceptance, so diagnosed people can connect to faith communities.

If you are, or supervise, a peer specialist, or work with a religious group to provide services, or alter congregants’ attitudes, contact  rcbaron@temple.edu.  They’ll get back to you.

Connecting to Other Communities

It doesn’t matter what kind of community you connect with, as long as it’s something you like to do, and positive people are doing it with you.

People dealing with trauma and emotional distress often lack the energy and self-confidence to try to connect.  Very often, especially if they’ve been out of circulation a long time, as I was, they don’t know how to connect, or where to look for communities.

I found a website called Meet Up, where you type in your interests and zip code.  It gives back contact information for informal groups in your area that meet to pursue your interests.  I joined two.

If you’ve been isolated and depressed long enough, you might not know what you’re interested in.  Think back.  What did you like to do when you were feeling OK?  Whatever you like to do, there’s a group of people to do it with.  Look in the newspaper and community bulletin boards. Search the web.

Then make yourself go, and talk to at least one or two people there.  Do like Corinna told me: say your name, and join a circle.  People will talk to you.

I know I’m making something sound easy that you find very hard. It was hard for me.  But the more you do it, the easier it gets, and it’s worth the effort.

What would help you connect to faith communities, or any community?

 

Wordworks Blog Author: Ken Braiterman

Ken Braiterman, Wellness Wordworks board chair, has been an activist, news reporter, opinion writer, and columnist since 1968. From 1997 to 2009, he was New Hampshire's leading advocate for recovery-based mental health services. He is an advanced Wellness and Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) facilitator.

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