Perusing the preliminary program for the American Psychoanalytic Association’s 2010 Winter meeting Jan 13-17th at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, NYC, I noticed that Discussion Group 95 is entitled “Toward an Understanding of Loneliness and Aloneness.” The presenter Lisa A. Piazza will share about a patient who uses a busy work schedule to avoid intimate connections. The Discussion Group plans to emphasize the experience of the patient’s loneliness and how therapists might best deal with loneliness in the patient. Perhaps this Discussion Group caught my eye because recently I had read a review of The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century by two psychiatrists, Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz. Their book noted that increasingly more people have fewer confidants and live alone, and that many of us are too busy and irritable for friends and self reflection, causing us to feel “left-out” despite it being a situation of our own making; all of this aggravated, of course, by the mythological American ideal of independence, autonomy, and self-reliance.
Both the course title and book review struck me, I think, because in classes recently at the Tampa Bay Institute for Psychoanalytic Studies, Inc., we, students and faculty alike, often find ourselves discussing what a lonely profession solo private practice is for the psychoanalyst/psychotherapist. Professional loneliness makes classes, meetings, and conferences all the more valuable to clinicians. This experience of professional loneliness seems equally worthy of discussion, and deserves exploration as to how it affects our relationships with patients.
Relational theories of psychoanalysis have helped us understand how unrealistic autonomy is as a goal in analysis if it does not also balance the reality of the embeddedness of humans in a human community. Relational psychoanalysis, offering reconfiguration of relationship paradigms, then becomes an important antidote to loneliness and avoidance, for both analysand and analyst. In fact, if what Olds and Schwartz write is true, then therapy may be the rare haven which allows for self-reflection while in relationship, and therapists may be the sole confidant for many people, making a relational approach in treatment all the more valuable.