What do you do when you feel lonely?

A writer recently asked me this question. What do you, as a therapist, do when you feel lonely?

As both writer and therapist, I get where she’s coming from: both professions offer the privilege of independent work, being one’s own boss, selecting one’s own hours, perhaps even working from home. We offer guarded transparency, putting out to the public a carefully selected element of our authentic selves, yet professionally reserving privacy as well. In working alone, we reap the benefits of reclaiming control of our time but pay for it in solitude. Independence repudiates interdependence.

So yes, therapists (and writers) can get lonely.

The irony of psychotherapy is how deeply we connect with our clients, and how sincerely we care. Yet, by nature it is and needs be a one-way relationship as the purpose is to serve the needs of the one. Such a unique solitude to be both intimate and alone.

Loneliness, to me, is a question of belonging. I can be alone and content, snuggled up with steaming tea, my soft amber blanket and an engrossing book, secure in the knowledge of others’ love for me and I for them. At other times, when too much time stretches between meaningful engagements, and the silence becomes too loud, the question of belonging may arise.

It’s in times like these that deceptive thoughts may come to taunt the mind, whispering suggestions of your own (in)significance.

I’ve learned the most effective way to quiet these haunts is to shift my mind toward others who might be alone. I’ll seek out ways to brighten another’s day, lifting my focus outside of myself. I pause to think of who in my personal circle might be uplifted by a hello or word of care, and I reach out. Shifting the focus from my own melancholy to consideration of others shifts the sadness that accompanies loneliness. This may involve a facetime call with a distant family member, a word of encouragement to a more casual connection, or initiation of a coffee date or a hike with a friend I love with whom I haven’t recently connected face-to-face. Just getting plans on the calendar can be enough to lift loneliness as anticipation brings a gentle joy.

In the process of reaching out, I might pause to re-read old messages, savoring the sweetness of this evidence of connection. Letting the love that lingers between lines seep into my solitude and silence the suggestions of insignificance. Savoring the connection that, after all, doesn’t disappear in the in-betweens.

What do you do when you feel lonely?

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