Therapy for the Lonely

Many people long to get on better with others. They feel there should be more satisfaction in their social contacts—more give and take in companionship, more response, more sharing of experience, more intimacy among friends. They wish there were some miracle cure for the loneliness they so often feel when in a group. These unhappy people are especially susceptible to the attraction of the so–called sensitivity and encounter groups, which promise a release from the inhibition and hypocrisy that seem to stand in the way of really satisfying relationships.

The training these groups claim to give consists of stripping all reserve from thought and behavior—reserve that supposedly hinders communication and builds walls between human beings. Participants in group activities are encouraged to say exactly what they think and behave without any pretense. Anger, prejudice—all human emotions—are to be acted out with no holds barred. Spontaneous expression of inner feelings is the rule, the theory being that through this destruction of the protective shell of reserve that mortals fearfully construct around themselves, relationships with others will become more meaningful and life more enjoyable.

But experience shows that there is danger in uncontrolled thought and behavior. Today, when permissiveness and license are leading some people to excesses that are obviously hazardous to both mental and physical health, thinkers are concerned that this new method may be just another channel through which harm can come to the human race.

September 18, 1971

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