Learning Mutual Support Skills

by Anne Leibig

I am planning to become a resident of the ElderSpirit Community described as "An Ecumenical Neighborhood of Mutual Support". Knowing that when I teach I learn I decided to teach a short course on mutual support at the College for Older Adults. In preparing the course I drew on my background in Gestalt Therapy. This method emphasizes healthy contact in the present and that support is the most urgent concept for good contact.

For me to be mutually supportive three things are essential: 1) my capacity to be self-supportive, 2) my capacity to ask for and receive support and 3) my capacity to give support to the other. The course was structured as a sharing experience where together we (14 participants) began to draw from our own experiences and name self-supporting qualities. We spent more time on self-supporting skills because it was a fresh realization that to be mutually supportive we have to be able to "put the oxygen mask on ourselves first" before reaching out to others.

I focused on the "face of the other" as the most important tool to give support to others. Seeing them "face to face", really seeing their face as you are giving support. This was drawn from the philosophical work of Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995). He states that we are fundamentally dependent on the "Other" for our own liberation. In our Contact with the Other, it is the Other who calls to us from their vulnerability. It is our response that forms our soul.

From teaching this short course (2 two-hour sessions) I realized that there is a great deal to explore as we create our "ecumenical neighborhood of mutual support". I am excited that my training in Gestalt Therapy fits so well with the strengthening of mutual support within myself and others. I am looking to my next class to learn more.


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