It feels good to be a Good Samaritan, of course. But there’s more to the story—because science reveals that being of service to others brings numerous health benefits. Maria E. Pagano, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, has investigated the helper therapy principle (HTP), which is based on the concept that when people help others, they are also helping themselves—particularly when the helper and the recipient of that help share a common malady. Alcoholism Treatment Quarterly published her recent review article on the topic. Among the evidence cited were studies showing that…

  • People with chronic pain who counseled other pain patients reported a significant decrease in their own symptoms of pain and depression.
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS) patients who were trained to have monthly 15-minute supportive phone conversations with other MS sufferers showed improvement in self-confidence and self-esteem as well as reduced depression.
  • Alcoholics who helped other alcoholics were almost twice as likely to stay sober in the year following treatment…had lowered levels of depression in the three months after they started helping other alcoholics…and had significantly improved self-image. Dr. Pagano explained, “Helping others with a desire to live sober transforms the helper’s dark past and pain to greater good and enables him or her to be uniquely helpful to a fellow sufferer.”

While service to fellow sufferers is a cornerstone of 12-step programs of recovery, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Dr. Pagano noted that it is not necessary to share a common health problem in order to benefit from doing good. For instance, helping others in general has been linked with longer life, less depression, higher self-esteem and greater life satisfaction.

Bottom line: For a “helper’s high” and a significant health boost, lend a helping hand to someone in need.

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