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Do You Have a ‘Third Place’?

What is a Third Place?, third place for a person in recovery, third place

Before the global health emergency that began in 2020, most of us spent a significant amount of our time in one of two places: home and work. While many things have largely returned to normal, one thing that may have been permanently altered is the number of people who no longer go to work but instead work from home. For those folks, two places have become one place with two (often poorly separated) central activities. 

But there is plenty of reason to believe that most people benefit from having a place they enjoy spending time and interacting with others that is neither their workplace nor their home. That location is often called a “third place” or “third space” (names we still think are useful even for those who live and work in the same location). Having a third place in your life is a good way to support your mental health.

Let’s take a closer look at third places and why they are beneficial—not only for you but for your community, too.

What Sort of Space Can Be a Third Place?

Obviously, most people spend time in far more than two places. We go to the grocery store and the gas station. We go out for lunch or dinner with coworkers and friends. We go to the doctor or on a walk or to worship services. In fact, if you were to jot down all the places you have been in the last month, you would probably find yourself with a pretty long list.

But none of those places necessarily qualify as the kind of third place we are referring to here. When sociologist Ray Oldenberg coined the term, he had something pretty specific in mind. Writing in Discourse, a publication of George Mason University, Bruno V. Manno summed up Oldenberg’s ideas this way:

Oldenburg describes third places as locations people visit voluntarily, where conversation is the main activity. They have no membership requirements; social differences are leveled and generally left outside the establishment. In small towns, especially, third place associations can be spread along a Main Street and may even include a rich sidewalk life. …

Third places are some of the many assets or anchor institutions that comprise the social infrastructure of a community. They are also an opportunity structure where individuals can encounter new friends and new ideas. These settings often have their own rituals and activities that patrons perform—the way they greet one another, the places they sit or the cheers they use as they watch their favorite sports team. …

Finally, third places help people form close friendships and increase their civic involvement. And because they cultivate a sense of belonging and promote connection, offering the social treasures gained by interpersonal interaction, they generate place capital. They are civil society’s living room.

A coffee shop. A bookstore or library. A local park or green space. A neighborhood bar. Any of these places can become a third place where people gather, converse, and feel a sense of community. (Of course, we don’t recommend a bar as a good third place for a person in recovery from a substance use disorder.) 

Being a part of the unique and friendly culture of a third place means you are helping to build community—and you are also getting the kind of rich social interaction that supports your mental health. Such interaction protects you from loneliness while also offering you the opportunity to rest and recharge.

A Shortage of Third Places Post-Pandemic

Like so much else, the locations that may have served as third places struggled during the pandemic—and many have been slow to return. But these kinds of places are worth finding—even if it takes a bit to identify a place where you feel comfortable and welcomed—and supporting. Finding your third place props up your mental well-being and gives you the opportunity to feel a part of something special.

If You Need Mental Health Treatment, We Are Your Place

At Peak View Behavioral Health in Colorado Springs, we provide personalized mental health treatment for all sorts of disorders including the various kinds of depression, anxiety and panic disorders, and issues that have arisen from past traumatic experiences. We treat each person we serve as an individual and bring to bear a powerful combination of expertise, experience, and evidence-based practices. When you are ready to make and maintain improvements to your mental health, we are ready to help you reach your goals.

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About programs offered at Peak View Behavioral Health

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