The Importance of Social Intimacy: My Research Background
As a Ph.D. student of clinical psychology at the University of Waterloo, I participated in practica in clinics and hospitals. As I worked with patients, it became clear to me that people who have close, supportive relationships with others are generally healthier, both physically and emotionally and cope better with stress. I became fascinated by the interaction of psychological and physical factors in determining health and resilience to stress. I was especially interested in the role that social support and companionship play in helping people cope. Back in the late 1970’s, the idea that close relationships play a protective role in moderating the effects of stress was quite novel. Research exploring the impact emotional and social factors had on the body, including the response of the immune system, was still in its infancy.
The Development of the Miller Social Intimacy Scale
In my master’s level research I developed a psychological measure of social intimacy that could be used to quantify the degree of emotional closeness a person felt toward another person such as a family member, spouse, partner, or friend. I hypothesized that people who have relationships that are closer and more supportive can cope better with stress and are healthier. I developed and validated a measure of social intimacy, The Miller Social Intimacy Scale (MSIS).
My doctorate research employed this measure to explore the relationship between the degree of social intimacy that people experience and their adjustment to life stressors. My research showed that people who have low levels of social intimacy are prone to higher levels of emotional disturbance especially when they experience many negative life change events or few positive ones. People who have higher levels of social intimacy cope better.
In the years since its publication in 1982 many other researchers have employed the MSIS to investigate the role that social intimacy has on our emotional and physical health. The data have been consistent in pointing out the importance that close relationships have on our health and ability to cope with stress.
Helping People Improve Their Relationships
My research and the findings of other investigators in this area have had a major impact on my clinical work. No matter why people seek my assistance, I am always sensitive to relationship issues. My goal is to help people improve their relationships and to establish and maintain new ones in which they feel emotionally supported, valued, and respected.
In my practice on many occasions two people come together for a session to improve their relationship with each other. One important goal in these conjoint sessions is to help each person communicate better by expressing needs and feelings as well as by listening empathically to the other person. Most people find that listening empathically is a challenge especially when their views differ from the other person.
My research in the area of social intimacy has inspired me to learn more about the complicated mind-body connection in order to help people cope better and improve their quality of life.
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