Different Forms of Healing: Therapy, Coaching + Peer Support (Part 3)
Written by: James Bosch and Cindy Rutter, BSN, AMFT
Many times, after a tragic event in our lives things just don’t naturally settle back to how they were before. These events can often become even more challenging if we had emotional trials in our lives before. There are many roads to healing, and usually, the hardest part is taking the first big step of asking for help! Many of us just can’t do it alone. The purpose of this article is to help you understand what kind of help is out there on your path to healing, and when you may want to consider getting assistance from a trained therapist, a life coach, a peer supporter, or a combination of the three.
Some of us have a hard time admitting we need help and can no longer get through the difficult parts of our recovery alone or by sheer willpower. Many of us grew up with messages that asking for help is a weakness. Some families and cultures have myths or stigmas that seeing a therapist or other professional means we are somehow crazy, broken or more commonly “weak.” In contrast, we the authors believe that the act of asking for help on your healing journey is a sign of great strength and wisdom, and yes, even courageous. So, we will outline three types of help; Therapy, Life Coaching, and Peer Support. In Part One, we will discuss therapy as one potential means of healing.
What is peer-support? Simply put, it is the power of healing that comes about when two people with a shared life experience come together to share their experience with each other. It is the magic and ease that one feels when they do not have to explain their whole story to be understood completely. Peer support can happen one on one, in small informal gatherings or in organized groups and meetings.
One of the longest standing examples of successful peer support is Alcoholics Anonymous. Since 1935, men and women suffering from alcoholism have been meeting in groups to help each other stay sober. The difference with AA is that meetings are not run by professionals, but rather with other individuals who have struggled with alcoholism. Many medical professionals agree that it has a higher success rate than most treatment programs. Why is this? Because one person has been there and has healed enough to be support for another, creating the aforementioned “magic” of feeling understood through a peer’s support.
In burns, peer support has been happening for years in burn camps, burn support groups and informally in hospital wards and waiting rooms. The Phoenix SOAR (Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery) program is an example of peer support and was created by the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors. Phoenix SOAR has gone a step further to train burn survivors who feel they are in a place in their healing to give back to others. These Phoenix SOAR supporters visit newly burn-injured survivors and family members to instill hope that there is a life after the tragedy of a burn.
You witness the most exciting and informal forms of peer support at programs like the Phoenix World Burn Congress. In the hallways, at mixers, dinners, and dances. People are connecting and building relationships that instill a sense of belonging and healing, This is often missing back in communities where a burn survivor may be the only one with the experience.
Peer support facilitates healing through the connection to another that “gets you.” Unlike a therapist or life coach, a peer support relationship is based on helping by the example of the life the other more seasoned survivor is living and the intimacy of a peer-to-peer relationship. That is different than someone you are contracting to help you. Peer support can be utilized at all stages of the healing journey and a great adjunct to therapy and life couching. It is also helpful when a person does not need extra professional help and just wants to feel they are not alone in their experience.
Choosing between therapy, coaching or peer support is a choice only you can make. All of the above resources are possibilities for your own personal growth. They are all effective methods for that growth. Each and every one of us as individuals can benefit from reaching out when we need guidance or help with healing on our journey in life.
Cooper, M, O'Hara, M, Schmid, PF, & Bohart, AC. The Handbook of Person-Centered Psychotherapy & Counseling. New York: Palgrave Macmillan; 2013.
Lilienfeld, S. O., & Arkowitz, H. (2012). Are All Psychotherapies Created Equal? Scientific American Mind, 23(4).
About the Authors:
James Bosch was burn injured as an infant. He has dedicated much of his professional life in the service of helping other burn survivors and their families heal and find meaning after a burn. Acceptance of new life, new body, and finding new meaning are at the core of his work. He speaks and facilitates at burn meetings in Canada and the United States. He has a private practice and telemedicine practice in California.
Cindy Rutter has been an advocate for Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors and involved in the burn community for more than 30 years. She recently completed her masters degree to become a marriage and family therapist. Cindy has been a burn survivor for 57 years and is the former nurse manager of the burn unit in San Diego.