|Brain Science Clinical Mastery Symposium 2012 David Schnarch Anxiety Linda Bacon Wendy Behary Ethics Community of Excellence Narcissistic Clients Etienne Wenger Clinical Excellence Mindfulness Trauma Great Attachment Debate Gender Issues Alan Sroufe Challenging Cases Couples Therapy Diets Future of Psychotherapy Attachment Theory Men in Therapy Mary Jo Barrett CE Comments William Doherty Mind/Body The Future of Psychotherapy Attachment Couples|
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In The Lonely American, Olds and Schwartz tick off the cultural reasons for this epidemic of loneliness, which probably won't surprise anybody: America has always been a land of rugged individualism, celebrating a cult of personal autonomy for close to two centuries. (Think Henry David Thoreau's Walden, Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance," Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself," Jack Kerouac's On the Road, and any number of frontier heroes and heroines from way back.) Cultural icons like the solitary cowboy (think John Wayne in The Searchers or Alan Ladd in Shane), action heroes like Rambo and Lara Croft, and legions of haunted detectives staring into the darkness late at night fill our imaginations. North Americans as a people move often, break connections, and extol individual freedom as if mobility and autonomy were God's gift to the planet.
The result is that Americans spin through their isolated days like whirling dervishes. Instead of meeting other human beings, many of us succumb to electronic distractions. We gaze into our BlackBerries while walking. We endlessly check off items on to-do lists, caught up in what the writer Barbara Ehrenreich calls "the cult of busyness." Underneath all this display of frantic activity lies the painfulness of social isolation and loneliness. For that, we hope that psychotherapists, like good sheriffs, ride to the rescue.
Therapy: Bad for Patients and Therapists?
All well and good! That's what therapy is for, isn't it? Therapists are trained to address the dynamics of emotional distress, the feelings and symptoms that keep people disconnected and in pain. But there's the hitch. According to Olds and Schwartz, what usually goes on between the therapist and patient may not be the best way to help patients emerge from social isolation. Instead, therapy may teach lessons that are exactly the opposite of what patients need to know about how to build relationships with other people.
As the authors put it, "Patients get to talk mostly about themselves" without having to worry about the therapist's state of mind (at least in theory). They insist that "the job of the therapist is to be curious about the patient [and] provide patients with reliable attention and understanding, keeping the focus on the patient's problems and life and words. There is no expectation of equal time." That can feel just dandy during the therapy hour: it can make us feel freer to express ourselves without fear or shame. While we may be conversational duds at a party, we may see ourselves as magically articulate, even fascinating, in front of this perfect confidant, who not only listens thoughtfully, but often hangs on our every word. The therapist becomes the model companion, who understands our every difficulty and empathizes with our secret pains. Who wants ordinary human beings after this therapeutically catered love-in?