LOS ANGELES—Los Angeles-based Marriage & Family therapist Shari Foos says increasing feelings of isolation are not only a key factor in the breakdown of relationships but also rifts in society. “People today are afraid to share their thoughts and often feel unsafe to simply be themselves,” she observes. “The growing divisiveness furthers the anxiety, depression, and insecurity many are experiencing. We need to create opportunities for meaningful connection, especially within groups.”
Shari’s introduction to the power of group connection came during her adolescence when a guidance counselor referred her for individual and group therapy to help overcome a difficult childhood. She found that the group process offered an essential piece that she could not get from one-on-one therapy. “Being part of a group in which I was seen and accepted by peers helped me realize I was more than my problems. Hearing the others’ stories normalized my own insecurities and I was no longer all alone with my pain. I was part of this group, part of the world, I belonged.”
That early adolescent experience would inform her approach to her psychotherapy practice. “I found that contrary to our being taught that therapists must always remain distanced from our clients, there were times when sharing my own human experience allowed clients to understand that I wasn’t perfect and thus it was okay for them to be imperfect. The group experience helps us recognize that we all have the same set of feelings and that even when we can’t relate to the details, we can empathize with others’ emotions,” Foos offers.
Foos believes that everyone benefits from group connections, no matter their background. There is no essential difference between middle-class adults, foster youth, veterans, high-powered executives or artists. “We are all seeking the same things. It’s incredible to watch the light go on when you are sitting across from someone different from you who might as well be telling your story,” she observes. “Beyond that mutual recognition, group participants see the positive impact when they deeply listen and empathize with others. They feel good about themselves because they cannot deny that simply listening and sharing their own experience actually helped someone.”
The Narrative Method presents the free weekly Human Zoom-In where the experience of group connection goes online. Every Thursday at 5:00 p.m. (PST), the Human Zoom-In conversation group provides a unique experience where people from all walks of life are invited to separate themselves from negative ideas or insecurities they may have about themselves and be “who they really are.” Each hour-long “Salon” group is a safe and nurturing environment that uses thought-provoking videos and compelling prompts to start story-sharing conversations. These sessions aim to break through isolation and build real human connections. “There is no small talk – we go deep and get to know each other meaningfully. It’s like hanging with your close friends who already get you.”
In addition to the Thursday Human Zoom-In, The Narrative Method offers two free prompt-based creative writing groups each week, the Sunday Morning Write at 8:30 a.m. PST and the Tuesday Evening Write at 4:00 p.m. PST. Theses short-form writing sessions are an hour in and out. The group are shown a picture followed by a pair of prompts and just 21 minutes total to write and edit one page, leaving no time to second-guess or judge themselves. The focus is on creativity rather than perfection, and in the safe environment The Narrative Method creates, even non-writers can go beyond their everyday ideas, deep into their imaginations.
According to Foos, the epidemic issue of isolation we see all over the news and all around us is not just the result of losing our ability to communicate. Instead, she observes, it’s that we have lost many of the daily opportunities as well as the venues we had for face-to-face conversation. “In the past, people could meet in community centers, at parks, in random places, in line for a movie, at work. Without unnecessary rules or games, The Narrative Method uses science as much as laughter to inspire, have fun and connect. We consider the damaging impact of culture, but we can also laugh at our human foibles to disarm shame and the fear of sharing themselves. After all these years we have succeeded in inspiring folks to consider a truer picture of why they struggle and how we can help each other grow through sharing our stories and our creativity.”
Evidence that Foos is on to something with The Narrative Method can be seen in the thousands of individuals who have participated in the conversation and writing sessions. As recent examples, a military veteran found The Narrative Method’s sense of safety transformed him from a bitter introvert into a leader, encouraging his peers that sharing their stories wasn’t just a personal liberation but their duty to inspire others. A young teacher expressed her gratitude for having finally found a safe place to take risks in her writing because of the respectful way she felt witnessed without criticism. “Neuroscience has shown us that when people share stories, their brains alight in the same place, connecting us and building the bonds that come from mutual respect and understanding,” observes Foos. The Narrative Method attracts individuals from different backgrounds, states and even countries who are pleasantly shocked to see how easily they can connect and expand their perspectives about themselves and others.
No time commitment is required for those interested in joining The Narrative Method. The programs are all free of charge and each of the Salon sessions last only one hour – however the benefits of the experience are ongoing.
For the future Shari sees continued growth for The Narrative Method. “The safer we feel to be ourselves, the closer we come to articulating and reaching for our dreams. Happier individuals feel inclined to reach out to others and that is what changes the culture. The Narrative Method is designed to liberate us from our fear and replace it with new understanding of ourselves, our passions, and the infinite possibilities we discover from within ourselves and from others,” says Foos.
To learn more about The Narrative Method and to sign up to join one of the organization free weekly conversation and writing sessions, visit www.thenarrativemethod.org.