Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Pastoral Care - encouraging help seeking

I was reading The Psychologist this morning and found an article entitled "Encouraging help seeking" which spoke to me. The article referred to how people access therapy when they are in need but it strikes me that as pastoral carers within the church we have the same issue getting people to ask for help.

we have spent a lot of time setting up pastoral care systems at church to help support those in need physically, emotionally and spiritually; we can help a large number of people. However we hit a metaphoric brick wall when we realised that we have problems identifying those in need. There are the obvious cases such as those who go into hospital or are diagnosed with a terminal illness or those who have just had a baby. But what about the unidentified others, those who would accept help if approached with an offer but wouldn't offer themselves for fear that there are many others more in need.

Believe me I am the first to not ask for help when I need it. No one knew I had been in hospital until I was back in action and at church again. No one was told how depressed I was when I was in the depths of post natal depression, not until I started feeling better. So how do we conquer this reluctance to ask for help?

The article discusses how a person's identity is closely linked to their wellness. They might find it hard to admit a need since this could dent their identity of themselves as a vibrant, healthy, human being. This requires changes in others rather than the helpers but to do this we need to normalise the asking for help such that it is part of what strong people do to know that they need help and can be vulnerable.

The article mentions that one of the key issues is being able to identify emotional distress in others and offer help. This focusses on the helpers who need to know their community, their church members and notice when someone isn't quite themselves at the moment. Of course this is too much for the small number of pastoral carers and therefore it requires the whole church/community to share in the togetherness of knowing each other and identifying those who are suffering.

Interestingly the article states that the main factors which help people in distress are not the major changes but the small ways that churches and pastoral carers are excellent at: warmth, acceptance and unconditional positive regard. This in itself is reassuring that people who ask for help do not need to be scared about what they might receive; the simple things have the greatest impact, we will not be scaring anyone who asks for help.

So can I conclude my ramblings, possibly not, but I am heartened to know that we can continue in our pastoral care developments, being open about what we offer, showing that we will be caring for those in our community and asking that people come forward in the surity that they are no weaker for doing so.

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