Recounting your relationship is like recounting the dream you had last night: it’s interesting only to you. Certainly, the more lurid and turbulent the relationship, the longer you can milk the emotional support of your friends. They provide essential validation, assurances of your good looks, and proclamations that “you’re better off.” But eventually the patience of your most long-suffering friends can wear thin.
When their eyes glaze over with that STFU sheen, you’ve reached the limit.
Last week, Toronto-based psychotherapist Jasvinder Seehra Chauhan launched The Girlfriend Club, free group therapy sessions geared to young women and their relationship troubles. We can outsource our laundry, jobs, pet care and garbage disposal, so it should come as no surprise that we can outsource the sympathetic support of friends too.
Free group therapy was borne out of concern for her clients who could no longer afford one-to-one therapy sessions. The sessions run the gamut of themes (depression, stress & divorce/separation) but the Girlfriend Club is unique in that it speaks to a demographic whose support systems have seen significant disintegration in the last ten years.
“Women were dealing with a lot of anxiety and depression. Some of them were making some really poor choices in their relationships. Some of them were dealing with abuse and not getting support.” She felt it would be beneficial “if they had other people around them to speak to and support them, a little bit more beyond their actual female friends in their life. A lot of them had said ‘I talk to my so-and-so girlfriend and it just seems like after a while, I just don’t want to say anything anymore because it feels like a burden.”
We are umbilically connected to our smart phones, but social media connections are more tenuous and virtual than flesh and blood. Facebook and Twitter create the illusion of connectedness, but it’s easy to ignore doleful status updates. “When you are alone and you’re not connecting with other people, you tend to isolate a little bit more. That’s one of the signs of depression – when you start isolating. I have been seeing trends where people are more depressed, simply because they don’t have anyone to talk to, or they’re not around people. They’re not being ‘witnessed’ in life.”
The sessions are run out of Chauhan’s office at Ossington and Dundas. “My goal is to expand it across the GTA and work with other partners. Quite honestly, it gives us exposure as well. But the goal is to really make therapy accessible to people who really need it, on an ongoing basis.” She works predominantly with women who are looking for strategies and solutions, others are in crisis. Others come to be around other people and feel supported. Often they need a sympathetic ear – a sense of being ‘witnessed’. At the start of the session, she will ask everyone what sort of problems they are facing. “I will do actual active therapy when needed if I see a situation where I can provide more.” She is there to guide the group appropriately when needed. “If there is someone in the group who went through a similar issue – and have something that helped them – that might help in the situation. We do learn from one another as well.”
The unbiased ear of strangers can lend needed perspective to a seemingly untenable situation. “Sometimes we just need another woman to say to us; ‘Hey! What are you doing?!?’ It’s a wake up call. And that can come from anywhere. Sometimes it’s obvious to people around us, but it’s not obvious to us, and that’s the goal, is to really give support to young women that are going through dating and relationship issues.”
Chauhan is passionate about making emotional help accessible. “When I’m able to provide some support to somebody, turn them around at some big crisis in their life, helped them maneuver something that otherwise could have taken them down a much more destructive path… that means a lot to me as a human being.” Despite recent initiatives, seeking professional help for mental health issues still holds a stigma. There’s a niggling belief that attending therapy means you are volatile and somehow ‘losing your mind’. The group sessions are meant to be a preventative therapy, a pre-emptive strike against acute crisis situations. “People can just come out and know that there is a space with other people who are dealing with a similar issue. It’s kind of like a walk-in clinic. If you get a cut, you can immediately get some help and some support. It doesn’t have to be a chronic or serious situation. Sometimes we’re dealing with something in our life that’s causing us stress and we need to be around people who can support us a bit.”
Register for The Girlfriend Club or other free therapy sessions here.