Family Volunteering

The past twenty years has yielded enormous progress in the area of clinical psychiatric research.  The result is that therapists (and self-help gurus) have dozens of sophisticated treatment modalities to choose from for treating virtually any emotional or behavioral issue.

This series of blogs, however, is designed to serve as a reminder of some basic building blocks for emotional and behavioral health.   These are not treatment modalities with fancy names or reams of clinical research.  These are simple lifestyle choices that can help you and your family feel and function better.

Today’s Everyday Wellness Tip: Volunteering

While volunteering to help others may not seem like a sophisticated mental-health technique, those who engage in community service tend to weigh less, have fewer health problems, and report a higher measure of subjective happiness than those who don’t.

In many treatment facilities, community service is wisely viewed as a cornerstone of personal growth.  It gives students a break from focusing on their own troubles, allowing them to focus instead on helping others. Volunteering fosters a sense of connection to others and related feelings of compassion and gratitude.

Another common by-product of volunteering is a feeling of empowerment; the ability to have a positive, visible impact on another human being (a smile, a “thank you,” a change in circumstances) is a powerful antidote to feelings of low self esteem or inadequacy.   While many teens initially view community service as an unwelcome chore, it becomes a highlight for many students over the course of treatment.

To institute volunteering as a way to help your own family thrive, start by doing it yourself.  Teens are “allergic” to hypocrisy, so build credibility (and you own health and happiness) by quietly volunteering yourself.  Find something you’ll enjoy and will want to stick with.  If you’re a nature lover, do trail maintenance.  If like to teach, consider tutoring underprivileged kids.  If you miss meandering conversations with your own parents or grandparents, spend time at a local nursing home chatting and playing cards.

By first engaging in your own personal growth experiences, you will have much more credibility when you encourage—or require—your adolescent children to follow suit. Encourage your teen to think about areas of service that tie into a pre-existing interest.  This could lead to volunteering at an animal rescue center, serving meals at a homeless shelter, working at a therapeutic equestrian stable, or tutoring younger students.  Senior centers are a surprising first choice for many teens when it comes to volunteering.