Finding a Theory of How Health Works and Why: the Story of Wellspring (WS)

Finding a Theory of How Health Works and Why: the Story of Wellspring (WS)

The PaCER Innovates blog will post a series of Internship research stories with a focus on the patient voice.  The third story in our series, from the 2013 Internship - Cancer survivors and their families at Wellspring: a Calgary-based wellness centre offering self-help programs and services, tells of the experiences of patients living with cancer and those who care for them.                                                                                                    


A Salutogenic theory of community wellness

We were PaCER interns from WS, a cancer wellness centre built upon social support who wanted to understand how and why it worked. This is our story of how Salutogenesis changed our initial description of WS into a Salutogenic theory of community wellness.  

During our Set focus group we decided to observe the setting, the activities and interactions. During Collect we sought to witness first hand what was happening at WS.  Our final research report portrayed WS as ‘A place to Go’ -- a community defined by:  Sanctuary, Shared Energy, Humour and Joy, and Mortality.  These community strengths foster an expectation of  ‘Give it a Go’ through Acceptance, Encouragement, Contribution and Self Worth.

When we presented our findings to a group of Oncologists, they didn’t see the differences between their work and the impacts of a wellness environment. We went back to our data using the theory of Salutogenesis to deepen our understanding of the origins of health in WS. To our surprise we discovered that the trigger point of salutogenesis - stressors that disrupt health was missing in our observations.  Instead, we were witnessing a program ('A Place to Go') counteract overwhelming stressors of cancer.  We were seeing the battle, not the foe:  sanctuary quelled emotional stress, energy classes supported energy, fear and loss were diminished through humour and joy, and mortality was no longer a stressor but a silent and ineffective presence. 

This described what was happening but we needed to understand why this was happening. The ‘Give it a Go’ atmosphere created a sense of coherence, control and optimism as well as comprehending themselves through the acceptance of others.   Encouragement to try and risk provided opportunities to manage their cancer and the fears of their families.  By contributing to WS through volunteering and supporting other members they were regaining a sense of purpose and meaning in their lives that made their recovery worthwhile.  Further analysis identified self worth as a sense of coherence at WS gained through social support and connection.  This became the core category that developed the theory below.  

wellness diagram.png

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