Safe Spaces / Peer Support

I recently spoke with a patient who is a breast cancer survivor, and hard won at that. She experienced horrible treatment side effects, much of the psychosocial impact that breast cancer can have on a woman’s life–mostly negative, and rigid barriers within her workplace. Her private counselor has helped her navigate her feelings around this, as have I. I was telling her about my upcoming program for survivors as a resource-rich opportunity to learn and build community, as an environment that will be safe to talk about the topics that might be on a woman’s mind but she has no safe place to discuss them. She stopped me cold when she said, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

I was reminded in this exchange how much trauma and grief are part of the cancer experience. And that each of us has a different way of expressing herself, of managing the emotions and reactions of others, and what we even want to share about our reality. David Kessler, a renowned grief educator and counselor says, “You have to feel to heal.” Whether you process solo, or better in a group, that processing is paramount to surviving.

Our feelings can be public or very private. Our willingness to share them with anyone, however, requires safety. We have to be assured that what we say is held in confidence, that our words will not be dismissed or diminished, and that the person we are sharing them with is actually listening. A safe space can look radically different depending on your needs, but primarily a safe space has at least one caring individual attentive to your needs, willing to bear witness to your story. The term safe space refers to non-threatening places “intended to be free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations.” Where (or who) might this place be for you?

My patients often tell me that support groups are not for them. And finding the right support FOR YOU can take a few tries. However, peer support –the stories and support shared between two people with relatable experiences- can create understanding and a mutual therapeutic and emotional connection. Learning how others have navigated or coped can help you feel less alone, more validated, manage the ups and downs, make more informed choices, and advocate for yourself. These days, peer support is available online, in specialized groups, or on social media. Support may be: 1:1, with a counselor, with peers, in groups, healing circles, workshops, retreats, programs, classes or physical activities like yoga or hiking, art, writing. 3-day walks, and advocacy. Below are some resources if you are interested in peer support groups and/or looking for places that will meet you where you are right now.

Yours in Health,
Dr. Laura James, ND, FABNO

Peer Support and 1:1 Resources

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