Is therapy the solution for loneliness?
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Loneliness is endemic in American culture and deadlier than smoking. So many aspects of our culture contribute to loneliness and atomization, from our individualism and consumerism to our car-dependence and aversion to multi-family and multi-generational housing.
Esther Perel talks about how we require a single romantic partner to be everything for us. Meanwhile we comparatively denigrate friendship.
I've had to unlearn so much. Therapy has been incredibly helpful for learning how to deepen relationships, romantic and non-romantic, from acquaintances to actual friends.
Someone in the thread asked whether therapy could be a scalable solution to widespread loneliness.
In my opinion and experience, the most useful parts of therapy for most people are:
1. Asking good questions
2. Actively, empathetically listening to understand
3. Offering nearly unconditional positive regard
Part of the reason I think this is I read somewhere that the most important success factor in therapy is whether or not the recipient likes the provider and believes the provider likes them.
This turned out to be more important than the therapist’s skills, methods, years of experience, etc.
If I’m correct that all you need to see good results from therapy is a therapist who asks good questions, listens well, and likes you this leads me to believe we can train and license way more therapists way more quickly than we do right now. Which would ease the accessibility problem.
Now, I’m not saying these three things are easy or simple. But I’m also unconvinced most people need six years of schooling, a PhD, and a year of post-doc work to learn how to do them well enough to start helping others.
I’m also wildly unimpressed with our current training programs for licensed therapists. According to a psychologist on an episode of Dr. Justin Lehmiller’s podcast, most licensed therapists receive only a few hours of training on sex and sexuality. This is unconscionable considering what a huge impact these topics have on our mental wellness. And most therapists, especially religious ones, are sex-negative (they moralize about sex).
For instance, one social psychologist reviewed the existing research to see whether monogamy actually offers the benefits people believe it does. She said she had never encountered more resistance to publishing than she did when she failed to find that evidence. “It was like I shot the reviewer’s dog,” she said. I don’t know but I just feel like if you’re researching psychology you shouldn’t be so invested in the idea of monogamy that you get upset when the evidence shows it’s not necessarily better for everyone than consensual non-monogamy.
I believe sex-negativity itself exacerbates loneliness and alienation. It makes us worry unnecessarily that we’re weird or horrifying. It makes us shame each other for benign behavior.
I believe UBI offers another solution to endemic loneliness. It could free up more time and energy for more people to provide emotional labor. It would also mean fewer people would need to leave their social support systems for jobs. A lot of the resistance to UBI comes from a place of blaming individuals for their own poverty which disincentivizes people from asking for help, keeping them not just poor, but isolated as well. It robs the poor of help and robs the wealthy of the opportunity to help.
I also think the ideas behind relationship anarchy and polyamory have a lot to offer the broader culture in terms of creating and maintaining adult non-romantic relationships.
We see in polyamorous communities partners taking on the tasks that churches, immigrant communities, and multi-generational families used to cover (and still do for ever-shrinking percentages of the population). Polyamory is, for many, a way to cobble together needed support they can’t find elsewhere.
You don’t need to actually be poly to question a system which burdens two people with an entire community’s worth of childcare, domestic labor, financial support, and emotional and sexual needs.
Another way to fight loneliness is to question toxic masculinity, which reinforces rigid gender roles and gender hierarchy with scorn, mockery, and sometimes violence. Last I checked men were, on average, lonelier than women. And the more a man buys into gender essentialism the more likely he is to feel depressed, hopeless or suicidal, fail to seek help, binge drink, and even crash his car. Toxic masculinity pressures men to provide financially as economic forces make that harder and harder to do. Pressure to downplay their more “feminine” characteristics or face exclusion or physical harm isolates boys and men, causing loneliness and depression.
I don’t have a silver bullet for loneliness but I do think there are norms in American society that exacerbate the problem for little-to-no benefit.