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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

SDS Debate: Facebook, Self Esteem & Aiming for 153.5 Friends

Many of you probably caught the research study that hit the Sunday Times last weekend about the number of "true" contacts that people have on their Facebook account

Professor Robin Dunbar at Oxford University found that although some Facebook users had thousands of online "friends", in reality they only managed to maintain regular contact with about 150 of them.

Past delegates on our "How to build clients' self esteem" workshop will already be familiar with Professor Dunbar's work regarding the relationship between the size of people's social networks and their self esteem. According to Hill and Dunbar (2003), the average size of someone's social network (based on their Christmas card list!) is 153.5. Now, whether that personally makes you feel proud or whether you feel like "Billy-No-Mates", one thing that is clear is that most of our clients' social networks are considerably smaller than this! Indeed the work that I've done suggests they are frequently in single figures.

We have known for over 30 years through the work of Brown & Harris that social support is a very important preventative factor regarding depression and that the size of someone's social network is an important feature of this. For that reason, when our clients have low self esteem we often try and get them to expand their social networks as a way of addressing this.

However we are often rather uncreative when we try to do this. The most commonly used strategy is "getting them to join a pre-existing group with a shared interest." Unfortunately however, this is often one of the most challenging and stressful ways of doing it and many clients with low self esteem fail as a result.

On our "How to build client's self esteem" ( courses we explore other ways of building clients' social networks which are not as threatening for them and as a result are more successful. If you are interested in this topic and can be available on 5th February (London) or 12 February (Manchester) why don't you sign up and come along.

Last minute online bookings for these events even have £25 off!

However, prior to the course I would be interested to hear from you about other ways you have used to help your clients build their social networks. Lets share ideas and draw on our experiences. As always please forward your thoughts to me and we will post the best of them on the SDS Blog ( so that others can make use of them. If you prefer - post your comments on the blog directly and follow us to keep up with future discussions.

Take care,


Paul Grantham


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  2. Dear Paul

    Thanks for keeping me in the loop with the interesting debate about suicide and now provoking thought on the self-esteem/social network links. My thoughts are that it's quite a complicated link. For many people with low SE, it is indeed an important and challenging project to build up support networks (often not helped by the certainty that everyone else in the entire world has 153.5 friends).

    However, for others the reverse can hold: my closest example is my wife, who most people would think has high self-esteem (though she herself had no interest whatsoever in the question of her self-esteem) but quite a small social network which she has no intention of expanding. This is often seen clinically too: a lady with chronic depression I saw last week has a wide network and the challenge is to help her to slim this down so that she has time for herself.

    The ACT philosophy of identifying what you really value and going for it with whatever thoughts and feelings arise seems a good way of encompassing both 'sociotropic' and 'autonomous' contributors to self-esteem.

    I hope you will continue to keep me updated about the SDS workshops and the issues raised.

    Best wishes



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