Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage – Lao Tzu
It’s no secret that fulfilling relationships are essential to a happy life. After all, what is life’s purpose other than to experience love and be loved by others? In the counseling field, we endeavor to promote our clients’ healthy relationships and social engagement in the community. In this post, I provide a brief summary of the scientific literature to support the rationale for promoting social wellness in counseling.
Social wellness is defined as “one’s ability to interact with people around them. It involves using good communication skills, having meaningful relationships, respecting yourself and others, and creating a support system that includes family members and friends.” (Chobdee, 2014).
Social wellness includes positive, trusting, supportive relationships with family, friends, and intimate partners as well as being involved in the greater community which gives a sense of purpose. Social wellness is important to mental and physical health. Social integration is defined as “the overall level of involvement with informal social relationships, such as having a spouse, and with formal social relationships, such as those with religious institutions and volunteer organizations,” (Umberson & Montez, 2010). Friendship is described as intimacy and connectedness with supportive confidants and includes one’s own ability to provide support and engage in the community (Myers & Sweeny, 2005, p. 22).
People who are socially integrated tend to live longer, healthier lives than people who are socially isolated. Social relationships impact physical and mental health through behavioral influence, psychosocial mechanisms, and physiological responses (Umberson & Montez, 2010).
According to Umberson & Montez, (2010), Relationships influence health through the process of reinforcing or inhibiting health-promoting and/or health-damaging behaviors over time. The most impactful relationships on health are parent-child relationships because parents have a great amount of influence over the shaping of a child’s habits over the course of development. For example, Sarah’s family values healthy eating, so Sarah learns from her parents how to balance her meals with lots of vegetables. Other relationships, such as familial relationships and friendships can also have significant impact on health behaviors. Sarah may influence Lisa to eat more vegetables by inviting Lisa to dinner with her family, where Lisa experiences a pleasant evening and is exposed to Sarah’s family’s dietary choices. Relationships can also promote or inhibit health-damaging behaviors, such as ineffective stress management strategies. Justin learns from his parents’ example that it is acceptable to deal with stress by yelling, cursing, and breaking objects. Justin throws a fit and punches through a door, and now has a broken hand. His parents attempt to punish this behavior initially through yelling and screaming, which may inadvertently act as positive reinforcement for Justin. Situations like these are all too common in the shaping of health-damaging habits in developing children.
Relationships that offer social support may improve mental health because it allows the person to feel valued, listened to, loved, and connected. Social supportive relationships also have the added benefit that talking through issues helps to reduce stress and promote healthy behaviors.
Also, research has shown that people who are socially integrated may experience a secondary benefit to arousal state, through stress reduction which may promote the regulation blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormones, and may improve immune functioning (Umberson & Montez, 2010).
Personal control, which is the sense of having power over the direction of one’s own life, may be enhanced by social connectedness (Umberson & Montez, 2010). This may result in taking responsibility for one’s health in order to promote the well-being of others and finding meaning in one’s relationships and life-choices. A sense of personal control may also cause a person to avoid risky behaviors while also seeking to preserve his life through proper care for ailments.
Research suggests that there may be certain physiological benefits of social support, such as improved immune functioning, reduced risk of chronic illness, faster healing times, higher cancer survival rates, reduced physiological impact of stress, and much more. One study shows that women diagnosed with breast cancer who were socially isolated were two times more likely to die from breast cancer than those who experienced support from close relatives, friends, and adult children (Kroenke, et al., 2006). We are only beginning to understand the importance of social support in the reduction of symptoms of physical diseases and mental illness.
This is a truly exciting time to be a part of the wellness community in health care! As we can see, relationships have a great deal of influence in the holistic well-being of the individual. Positive, nurturing, supportive relationships help individuals decrease stress and cope with life’s difficulties.
However, negative, abusive, or strained relationships can have a negative impact on well-being and health.
As counselors, we promote social wellness by helping clients examine the effects of relationships on mental, emotional, and physical health and help clients build trusting, positive relationships in order to improve well-being. It is so important to help clients understand the benefits of experiencing positive social ties to loved ones and the larger community. In my next blog post, I will discuss some tips for helping clients improve their social wellness.
Chobdee, J. (2014, June 4). Social wellness [Blog Article]. Retrieved from: https://wellness.ucr.edu/social_wellness.html
Kroenke, C. H., Kubzansky, L. D., Schernhammer, E.S., Holmes, M. D., & Kawachi, I. (2006). Social networks, social support, and survival after breast cancer diagnosis. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 24(7), 1105-1111.
Myers, J. E., & Sweeney, T. J. (Eds.). (2005). Counseling for Wellness: Theory, Research, and Practice. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.
Umberson, D., & Montez, J. K. (2010). Social Relationships and Health: A Flashpoint for Health Policy. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51(Suppl), S54–S66. http://doi.org/10.1177/0022146510383501
Hanna Rodriguez is a counselor in training at McNeese State University, and is completing her internship at the McNeese Kay Dore Gambling Treatment Program in Lake Charles, Louisiana. She is interested in viewing mental health from a wellness perspective. Read more about Hanna at:
Culled from Counseling.Org