Social connections and managing difficult emotions - transcript

Hello everyone my name’s Leanne Humphreys and today we’re speaking with Associate Professor Andrea Phelps who’s the Deputy Director of Phoenix Australia. Andrea has over 20 years of clinical experience in the assessment and treatment of post-traumatic mental health problems and has worked with a really wide range of people affected by disaster and trauma.
She’s also recently led the development of the Australian Guidelines for the Prevention and Treatment of Acute Stress Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and complex PTSD. But in amongst all of that, today we’re talking about social connectedness.

Leanne: Andrea, why are we talking about that?

Andrea: Hi Leanne. We know that social support is really important as a predictor of recovery after disaster. But of course not everyone has got easy access to good social supports and so often for whether a GP, or a psychologist, or other practitioner it can become a really important focus of the work that we do with individuals in promoting recovery after a disaster. And not everyone’s in the same situation so some people might not have had good social support before the disaster. They may have already been isolated or cut off from family, perhaps not have any close friends or regular contacts but also we know that in the aftermath of disaster sometimes people’s usual social supports just aren’t available. You know if they’ve had to move out of the area for instance, so we can’t assume that the social supports that people have always had available to them are still there for them.

Leanne: So Andrea how should we go about helping people build social connections?

Andrea: I think it’s really useful to break the broad concept of social support down into different types and that makes it easy to be quite concrete and specific about what people might feel that they’re lacking and what they need to do to build their social connections.

I use a strategy called the social connections map which is like a hub and spoke diagram with the person in the middle and different types of social support represented around them and by asking people a series of questions we then sort of populate those boxes around the centre so the sorts of questions would be – who have you got or who could be someone or a service or an organization who can help you with practical things?

The second one might be, name some people who you can share your experiences with. So it might be someone that you can talk to about things. The third might be people who can help you with information, advice or problem solving. And then the fourth one might be people to spend time with and importantly it’s not always the same person who you want to talk to
really in detail but spending time with someone who might just like doing the same sort of things that you like doing.

I think it’s often helpful for people to also think about how they can support other people
because that’s really important to feeling connected and part of something as well. So I’d have another box for that. Thinking about who you could support and then finally I’d also have a box for relationships that the person has got, but that they’d like to strengthen, that they’d like to put some effort into building.

So it’s not always starting from scratch with people. So these are people you’ve got in your life but you’d like to do more with or spend more time with, and then in answering all those questions that sort of provides a bit of a guide to the efforts that people need to make to build their social support.

Leanne: Okay so that’s that’s really interesting Andrea because as you said that concept then of social connections is much broader than perhaps we might normally think about social support being. So that’s really helpful, but I guess sometimes as a result of disaster though, communities are torn apart and sometimes people move away and the social connections that we might normally rely on aren’t really available.

Leanne: So what should people do in those circumstances?

Andrea: Yes, look it’s a really good point and it’s unfortunate that at the very time when we most need our social support sometimes they’re just not available to us. I would go back to the idea of that social connections map. I think it’s a useful framework in those circumstances as well to help people to think through the different types of support that could be helpful and while some of their existing supports might not be available there might actually be some new opportunities that arise. Things like getting involved in community recovery activities might be able to tick off a few of those boxes.

It’s also worth thinking about alternative ways of accessing existing or old supports it might be via telephone or online or letter writing or whatever. It’s not the same of course as face-to-face contact but it’s certainly better than losing those connections all together.

Leanne: Absolutely, absolutely. well that’s really helpful. Thanks very much Andrea and for
people who are interested in understanding more about social supports and and the social
support map that Andrea has spoken about you’ll find access to that on this page thanks very much Andrea.