Erie Chamber Blog
Monday February 3,  2020
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Submitted by Penny Mechley-Porter, Owner of Thrive Therapy Space

Being a therapist has some intrinsic difficulties--helping clients with life’s hardship
and pain, trying to balance clients’ needs against our own, and often feeling isolated
and unsupported professionally. My biggest goal in launching Thrive Therapy Space
is to help these helpers by providing a rich and nurturing environment. And what are
the two biggest ingredients in a healthy environment? I am convinced the ingredients
are connection and community. Indeed, research supports that loneliness and
disconnection have severe negative impacts on an individual’s mental and physical
health.

My journey to this belief in the power of community and connection began after
college when I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali, West Africa. I saw that
the volunteers who were the happiest were the ones who had made friends with
Malians and had become an accepted part of the community where they lived and
worked. I also observed that the volunteers who felt isolated also felt depressed. But
I noticed more than just the volunteers--the Malians themselves seemed happier
than most of the Americans I knew back home, despite having far less in terms of
material goods, access to medical care, and basic nutritional needs. Looking back, I
understand that what the Malian villagers did have were deep connections to each
other and a social structure that prioritized those connections. Illustrating this is each
country’s approach to greeting others: in the US, we greet each other with a passing
‘hi,’ in Mali the basic greetings take five minutes and involve inquiries as to the well
being of each member of a person’s extended family!

Years after my Peace Corps experience, the value of community and connection
became deeply personal when my husband and I moved to Switzerland with our
three young children. As someone who doesn’t tend towards depression, I found
myself feeling isolated and depressed after several months of living there. Though
I’m normally good at making friends, the Swiss are very reserved so building
friendships was s-l-o-w. My sense of isolation was precisely a lack of both connection
and community--but once those things developed, the depressive feelings lifted.
Even as a child I connected easily with people--I was instinctively good at listening,
not judging, and sharing deeply with the people I trusted. I didn’t realize I had hit on
the formula for deep connection, but I had. At age 40 I recognized I wanted to
connect with people professionally (I had been working in the computer field) so I
started on a Master’s in Counseling.

In my subsequent years as a therapist, I’ve loved connecting with my clients
individually and it seems helpful to them to feel connected to me--but it wasn’t until I
worked in the Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease that I saw the
incredible healing power of deep connection within a group. As part of my training, I
read extensive research (conducted both in the US and abroad) and was surprised to
learn that isolation “can increase the risk of death by at least 50%... That's similar to
the risk caused by smoking, and higher than [the risk] from obesity or lack of
exercise.” (WebMD, Forbes.com) As the ‘Group Support Facilitator’ in the Ornish
program, my role was to help the participants learn to listen more intently and to
share more deeply, helping them to heal emotionally, to connect more profoundly
and to reverse their heart disease.

I’ve since worked with many other therapy groups and witnessed how people feel
better about LIFE when they feel connected and supported. And I lived that truth in
the group of therapists I shared space with for the past 10 years--we met weekly for
lunch and to support each other personally and professionally. And we invited the
broader community of therapists in weekly for peer supervision. It’s an awesome
feeling--to be known and accepted and supported both personally and professionally.
It created a sense of calm in me and a feeling of self-confidence that hadn’t been
present before.

I began to wonder: How can I help more people understand and experience the
healing nature of community and connection? And what about my fellow therapists?
They give so much but often feel unsupported and isolated. As I began exploring the
concept of creating a supportive community for psychotherapists, it became clear to
me that this could be a powerful way to support individual therapists and ultimately
improve the delivery of mental health services in the entire region. And because I
was already familiar with Radius CoWork (an established coworking space here in
Erie, PA), I realized the coworking model could be perfect: shared space, shared
community and shared learning. Though applying the coworking model to a group of
psychotherapists is very new, it has great promise and I believe that soon other
communities will want to copy Thrive’s unique model.

Thrive opened just 3 months ago, so there’s still lots to do! But we’ve gotten a solid
start on the most fundamental part of our mission--to “create a supportive and
nurturing environment in which local therapists can heal, grow and thrive.”

So, send your therapist friends our way and we will welcome them into our
community. And send clients our way because our therapists are the healthiest
therapists around!

TAGS:
  • coworking
  • community
  • therapy space

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