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Greene, M. Kaplan, B.L. (1978). Aspects of Loneliness in the Therapeutic Situation. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 5:321-330.

(1978). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 5:321-330

Aspects of Loneliness in the Therapeutic Situation

Martin Greene and Bert L. Kaplan


Loneliness is discussed as a concept and an experience. Distinguished from aloneness and defined as qualitatively different from emptiness, it is recognized as an essential aspect of mature and intimate interpersonal relationships. In fact, the ability to experience loneliness indicates that there is both a capacity to recall images of prior attachments and a belief that the future holds the promise of subsequent attachments. Two cases were presented, one of a young woman illustrated that absence of loneliness is indeed an ominous sign of the inner state of emptiness and the other of the young man, which emphasized that there are pathological aspects of loneliness, as illustrated by his preoccupation with memories that interfered with current intimate relationships.

Although the two persons discussed are qualitatively different, the therapist's attention to the dynamics of the experience of loneliness, both his patients' and his own, proved helpful in understanding their dynamics and sensitized him to the meaning of the therapeutic interaction. In both cases, the treatment approach was derived from the view that the inner experience of insufficiently differentiated self/object representations interferes with current, potentially growth-facilitating, actual and shared experiences. In such cases the provision of the experience, such as through a corrective emotional experience, is not enough. As illustrated, the nature of the inner experience of self/object representations in the one case vague and empty, and in the other alternatively exciting and devouring, was maintained as a closed off system which served to colour and defend against actual experiences. The therapist's availability as a whole and actual object, together with the systematic analysis of the patients' inner experiences and consequent defences against actual relationships, provided the components that enabled therapeutic progress.

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