How to Treat Loneliness (and Should We?)

To the Editor:

Re “If Loneliness Is an Epidemic, How Do We Treat It?,” by Eleanor Cummins and Andrew Zaleski (Opinion guest essay, July 16):

I found your guest essay a disservice to “the lonely.” Instead of trying to cure loneliness, why not accept it as part of the human condition? Why make people feel bad, inferior or ill? It just perpetuates a negative myth.

In the past couple of years I have come to terms with my loneliness. Covid was a game changer for me. It taught me to be more accepting of it. It enabled me to find workarounds for social situations that made me uncomfortable.

I had a married friend who made me feel bad about being single with awkward questions like “Don’t you want to settle down with a partner?” This of course made me mad, embarrassed or guilty. I felt judged. She wasn’t being mean, but I couldn’t understand how she was insensitive to my feelings.

I wish we could all agree that loneliness is just a state of the human condition, accept it and not perpetuate the negative feelings that we have imbued it with. At the end of the day it’s enabled me to enjoy spending time with myself alone and maybe have a greater appreciation of the time that I do spend with others.

Keith de Lellis
New York

To the Editor:

As a group psychotherapist for over 20 years, I was saddened that the essay did not mention group therapy as a highly effective evidence-based treatment. It discussed how we can boost social connections naturally through walking, meditation, time in nature and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s suggestion that lonely people simply reach out to others.

All these can help for sure; I swear by them myself. But as the essay also mentioned, just telling people to do these things isn’t enough. We need interventions that help lonely people address the emotional and psychological barriers preventing them from going on that walk or calling a friend, such as interpersonal group therapy.

For many, not knowing how to join a therapy group is a deterrent. If you’re already in individual therapy, bring it up with your therapist and get their recommendations. If not, you can search online for directories — look for ones that verify therapist licenses and whether the therapists have completed specific training in group therapy, such as whether someone is a certified group psychotherapist.

Laura Kasper
San Francisco
The writer is an adjunct clinical assistant professor at Stanford School of Medicine’s department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.

To the Editor:

Loneliness is not a disease. It is a state you find yourself in.

For senior citizens, it is hard to start over. You have options: join senior centers, volunteer and if you have family and friends, do things together. But what if you have few friends? What if your family members are just about all dead? How can you join in on conversations when people talk about their spouse or grandchildren when that doesn’t apply to you?

As for me, I joined senior centers and looked forward to this new chapter. But I wasn’t prepared for chronic insomnia. There is the dilemma: How can you meet people when you are too exhausted to go out?

That’s when you find yourself home alone, and that’s a growing problem.

Sharon Pitts

To the Editor:

Why did the authors leave out religious affiliation? Nourishing the mind, body and spirit by participating in prayer and study of sacred sources links us together and solve for loneliness.

For many, now is the moment to journey back to sacred centers of social gathering. Let the glue of song and prayer bond lonely souls. Let us seek true joy through shared experiences of supporting one another in times of loss and joyous celebrations.

The authors missed interviewing anyone who would recommend going to where true GRACE (gratitude, reciprocity, altruism, choice and enjoyment) may be found. Sacred community is not just a treatment but a salient antidote to loneliness.

(Rabbi) Scott N. Bolton
New York

To the Editor:

While this essay covers the symptoms, potential causes and array of treatments for loneliness, it ends with a misleading quote by Dr. Stephanie Cacioppo, who says, “It’s a choice to remain lonely or not lonely.”

As a practicing psychotherapist for several decades, I beg to differ. I have worked with numerous clients desperate to move beyond loneliness, but they simply cannot find the way. This article does not mention the success of psychedelic-assisted therapies, demonstrated in clinical trials where forms of depression, anxiety, existential angst and, yes, loneliness are alleviated.

I have recently introduced ketamine-assisted psychotherapy within my own practice with astounding, sustainable results. What I observe is that in a span of a few treatments, clients report feeling unprecedented joy and deep connection to others.

While ketamine is currently the only legally permitted medicine with these properties (albeit for “off-label” use only), the imminent legalization of MDMA and other psychedelics for psychotherapeutic use may well revolutionize and ameliorate the loneliness epidemic, giving hope to so many who are now needlessly suffering.

Elizabeth Wolfson
Santa Barbara, Calif.

To the Editor:

This generally helpful piece neglects the important distinction between loneliness and solitude. The theologian Paul Tillich observed that our language “has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.”

Put simply: Not everyone who is alone feels lonely, and not everyone who is lonely is alone. Some people truly enjoy their solitude. Conversely, many individuals are surrounded by friendly and sympathetic people, yet still feel a gnawing sense of loneliness.

Several of the remedies for loneliness suggested, such as “seeking opportunities to serve others,” make good sense. But in my view, relinquishing loneliness begins with being comfortable with solitude — which ultimately means being comfortable with oneself. As Tillich put it, “Loneliness can be conquered only by those who can bear solitude.”

Ronald W. Pies
Cazenovia, N.Y.
The writer is a psychiatrist and a medical ethicist.

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