‘Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter’ (Izaak Walton)

Recently I have been reminded of the importance of community and connectedness in our lives. I attended a workshop at an apartment that was part of a community project in Adelaide, and was impressed by the atmosphere and shared gardens and spaces.

I also spend time each week at a coastal town called Goolwa where the sense of community is more evident than in the city. I went for a walk there one Sunday morning and stopped to have a coffee and read the paper at a coffee shop, only to find I had forgotten to take my reading glasses. When the owner came with the coffee they also brought me their own glasses to use!

In addition, I have been working with an online community for some time now, via facebook (Dr Cate Howell), my website (www.drcatehowell.com.au) and the radio. I do a regular radio show called Health Talk on FIVEaa in Adelaide, and often come across people who listen in regularly. All part of community and connectedness!

So what is community? The Oxford Dictionaries provide various definitions:
• A group of people living together and practising common ownership.
• The process of sharing or having certain attitudes and interests in common.
• The people of a district or country considered collectively, especially in the context of social values and responsibilities.
And connectedness is defined as:
• Joining together to provide access and communication.
• Associate or relate in some respect.
• Feeling connected to others.

In my work in mental counseling and mental health, community and connectedness are very important. Having social support is said to be a protective factor for our mental health, and it is generally agreed that social connections play an important role in maintaining a sense of well-being. Feeling connected to others contributes toward a sense of belonging, and loneliness can be a form of disconnectedness.

At the beginning of therapy with an individual, I often explore and discuss their values in different domains of their life, including family and friends, work and community. Quite often there is a gap between what they value in relation to community and what is actually happening. Connecting more with community can be helpful in these instances.

We are social beings and relationships are central to our lives, whether they are with loved ones, friends, people in our community or coworkers. Hence nurturing relationships with acquaintances, friends, or family is worthwhile. And by getting involved in the community, good links can be made with local people. Taking a course, or joining a club or support group can be helpful too.

Empathy (or being able to step into someone else’s shoes and share the feelings of another) is one attribute that is important in relating to others. The roots of empathy develop in our early years as we relate to caregivers and learn about empathy in play, and we continue to learn empathy as we relate to others in our families and at school, and as the brain matures. When we are empathic, we become attuned to and connect with others.

I will finish this blog with another story. When my son was a baby and I was on maternity leave, I would often take him for a walk and again stop for a coffee at times (this seems to be a theme in life for me!) at a local bakery and coffee shop. I got to know the owner and there was often an older woman there doing crosswords. The owner said that she spent a lot of time there and lived locally. He knew that she had had some mental health problems. One day he told me how she had not come in for a few days and he was worried. So he called the Police and they went to check on her and found her unwell and needing a hospital admission. This was community and connectedness in action, and I have never forgotten about his kindness.

I also recently asked my facebook community to comment on their communities. Interestingly, several people from the country responded, and talked about what facilities there were in their towns. Others commented on living in accommodation that involved a sense of community. Yet another, highlighted the importance of communication, another important ‘C’ to mention. The message overall in this blog is to consider your sense of community and connectedness, and look at ways of developing it more over time. Your sense of wellbeing and enjoyment will grow too!

• http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/community
• Howell, C. (2013). Intuition Unlock the Power. Exisle, New South Wales.
• Howell, C. (2009). Keeping the Blues Away: The ten-step guide to reducing the relapse of depression. Radcliffe Publishing, Oxford, UK.
• Howell, C. and Murphy, M. (2011). Release Your Worries: A guide to letting go of stress and anxiety. Exisle Publishing, New South Wales.


3 Responses

  1. Jenny Boothby [ from Victor Harbor]

    Cate, I couldn’t agree more with thee sentiments! I have been a teacher from 1959 until now [ I still do 3 half days a week in two local primary schools as a volunteer teacher working with studnens who have specific learning disorders [ and often behaviour problems as a direct result of not coping with school, neagative feelings about themselves which prohibit them being socially engaged with other students in their school, …. and a strong feeling of lack of self worth, self confidence and purpose in their life.
    I have a B.Sc. +& Dip>Ed. from Uni of Adelaide and Adelaide Teachers College….and was a Maths, Science, Biology , and Chemistry teacher for 7 years before marrying and adding more subjects to my teaching repertoire…Physics, Agricultural Science, English, Geography and Tourism!!!!To stay in the system and regain permanency we had to be very much ” multi- skilled in the 80’s & 90’s.[…even though I’d been a Maths /Science Senior before becoming a parent.]. I later undertook a B.ed. in Primary teaching in order to be able to view the whole spectrum of education from Junior Primary to year 12 , as iiwas working more and more at the lower end of the academic spectrum at V.H.H.S.with students who had learning difficulties and subsequent behaviour problems as well. I then went on to do my Grad.Dip.Ed. in School Counselling to gain the skills needed to help these student s to cope with not only school but life in general… many came from dysfunctional family back grounds , left school a.s.a.p. and linked up in the community with students of a similar ilk… and got into trouble with the law….. and found getting a job very difficult.
    I did both sets of new degrees as an external student , studying in my own time whilst teaching a full teaching load, doing Moderation work around S>.A. ‘s town and country Secondary schools for year 12 Tourism classes [ I was on the committee to write up the year 11 & 12 Touridm subjcys and on the Steering Committee to wite up thr 2 Uni courses in Tourism at Flinders Uni. In the 70’s my husband and I helped to establish the Wirrina Holiday Resort at Second Valley… our 3 children were pre – schoolers, Ian was the Site Manager and I had the task of working with the TAFE staff at Regency Park to train our 90 members of staff]….. YES I had been “multi – skilling it! “!!!
    Whilst studying for these last two tertiary qualifications i was also looking after a very sick husband who had bowel cancer, a child at Uni, one in year 12 and one in year 8… life was hectic!!!
    I later switched to teach at Goolwa P.S. from there I then” retired from class room work” in 2010 for health reasons to become a SPELD teacher on the South Coast[ Ian died from cancer in 2000].. At the same time we then had 3 chidren at uni to support so life was not easy financially. I was a NAPLAN { and LAnS before thsat] marker for thre past 8 years … which was an eyeopener .. i soon imparted my experiences from thsa t to be a Numeracy ? Literacy volunteer teacher locally..
    Through all these pathways I was abvle to utilise my experience, skills, qualifications from these broad and varied teaching areas to help the young folk on our South Coast who had learning disorders to acquire more personal skills such as persistence, resilience, patience with themselves self respect , coping mechanisms etc to get on in life…. and . to be happy within themselves,
    wherever possible I helped them to engage within their community with groups such as Zonta [ I was a Charter member ], Rotary[ Ian was a member for 30 years], , Lions, and do work experience in local businesses to gain their self confidence and a belief in themselves..
    I now work at V.H.P.S. with an excellent young teacher Katie Bilney, [ who I taught for 5 years at V.H.H.S.!!! , then taught with at Goolwa P.,S. in her first 5 years out teaching]…she has set up an Early Intervention Unit at V.H.P.S.. for 67students from years 4 -7 to have 3 lessons a week of extra help in Literacy & Numeracy skills… they’ve all been clinically diagnosed with some form of learning disorder and sometimes ADHD or Behavioural problems as well… we have a waiting list of students who would be in that unit if we could accommodate them…I do not get paid, I am a volunteer… but the amount of job satisfaction I get from doing so is more than the value of any $ i might have received… we are changing these children”s’lives for life…. and helping their parents to cope with their child’s problems as they go through puberty into adulthood. we are utilising the skill of other community folk wherever we csan… and tapping intoa wealth of lonely people who need to feel needed. I’ve turned 72 , and hope to go on with this work for another 10 years! I regained full teacher registration to last me until 2018… so I’m more than happy1

  2. Jan Alton

    Hello Cate,
    i have stumbled on your wonderful websites and now incorporate them as a reference point for people I see who are need of a lift and support in their lives, but have difficulty getting to counselling.
    What a wonderful inspiration your site is
    .Not surprising, from my memory of you in University days,
    kindest regards
    Jan Alton

    • catehowell

      Thanks Jan and lovely to hear from you. That is the aim of the site and my facebook page Dr Cate Howell. So good to hear that is how you see it. I am gradually putting more information up on the site as I can. Hope you are good. Cheers, Cate

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