Islands in the Sea: At times, therapy can reinforce isolation

By Richard Handler

March/April 2009

The Lonely American: Drifting Apart in the Twenty-First Century
Jacqueline Olds and Richard S. Schwartz
Beacon Press. 224 pp. ISBN-13:978-0-8070-0034-2

Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection
John T. Cacioppo and William Patrick
W. W. Norton. 269 pp. ISBN 978-0-393-06170-3

Sometimes it seems that the very idea of shame has been banished from our door. The underwear ads on bus stops are more lurid than the pornography of my childhood, while revelations of celebrity rehab, rather than a secret to be hidden at all costs, are a staple of cable TV. Until recently, about the only thing people appeared to be ashamed of was being exposed as making too little money (though with our current economic meltdown, that, too, seems passe). According to therapists Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz, however, one shameful secret patients are still likely to conceal is that that they're lonely.

Depressed? It's become popular parlance. People use the term even when they're just sad, forlorn, or having a bad spell. But lonely? Not me! It's like admitting—to use that most stigmatizing term from high school—that you're a "loser."

Still, the evidence is piling up that loneliness is an increasing problem. According to the 2000 census, 25 percent of U.S. households consist of only one person. Contrast this with population statistics from 1940, when people living alone accounted…

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