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woman in solitude walking through a lonely vista_-_Eleni_Paltoglou-Blümel painting

From Loneliness to Solitude

Perspectives for clinical work

With Michael Buchholz, Lesley Caldwell, Aleksandar Dimitrijević, Gamze Özçürümez Bilgili & Zack Eleftheriadou (Chair)

In this four-speaker webinar, participants can gain valuable insights on how to guide clients from the depths of loneliness towards the bliss of solitude. Lesley Caldwell presents the theoretical discourse emerging from the silent dialogue between Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott. Our other distinguished speakers present compelling case material, encompassing family dynamics, extreme trauma survivors, and the psychotherapists’ experience of loneliness.

Loneliness has become a pervasive and pressing concern in contemporary society, akin to a pandemic that no vaccine can readily cure. The poignant experience of loneliness is something many of us can relate to, and clinical observations underscore the profound struggles patients often face with loneliness. One might argue that loneliness constitutes a fundamental element at the core of many mental health problems, thus making it an essential aspect of our training and practice within the field.

Lesley Caldwell, a distinguished psychoanalyst, offers a theoretical foundation from which we can consider the following case material. Psychoanalyst and family therapist Michael Buchholz shares a compelling case study of a family seemingly bound together by strong connections, which, upon closer examination, revealed a complex enmeshment. Through his work in enhancing the capacity for meaningful relationality and psychic seperation, he successfully helped a troubled child recover from drug addiction and to feel less alone within his family. Psychiatrist and psychoanalytic psychotherapist Gamze Özçürümez Bilgili, specializing in working with extreme trauma survivors, sheds light on the challenges faced by clients who often lose hope of being truly understood and grapple with profound feelings of isolation. Clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst Aleksandar Dimitrijević explores the topic of loneliness within therapists. He discusses how those of us who tend to prioritize the well-being of others over their own may find themselves experiencing a sense of isolation and may therefore be more susceptible to countertransference reactions in work  with patients who experience loneliness.

We aim to bring theory and clinical experience together for a lively engagement on the ubiquitous experience of loneliness and for participants and speakers to come together in dialogue to develop ideas for clinical work with clients who experience loneliness.


Aleksandar Dimitrijević 
Introduction to the topic of loneliness and its clinical relevance 

In this introduction to the event Aleksandar Dimitrijević will define the basic concepts of aloneness, loneliness, and solitude and their general clinical relevance to set the scene. 

Lesley Caldwell 
Psychoanalytic Accounts of Loneliness and Solitude 

This paper discusses the contributions to the area of loneliness and solitude of two significant thinkers of postwar psychoanalysis, Donald Winnicott and Melanie Klein. Their accounts of the neonate and of human nature represent divergent assessments of human subjectivity and its origins, deriving from very different suppositions about early life and the weight to be assigned to innate and environmental factors. The infants they discuss are very different beings with lives shaped by very different ways of sustaining internal conflicts and the importance of the external world in that negotiation. This paper discusses  their different theoretical and clinical assumptions and emphasises their relevance beyond the analytic session for more general ideas of life and living.

Michael Buchholz
The Loneliness of Enmeshed Families 

In many families, a hidden dimension of loneliness is experienced by its members due to a sense of being "enmeshed" rather than "related" to each other. The key distinction lies in the experience of relational dynamics. When you are "related to" someone, you can choose when to engage in and disengage from your relationships, giving you a sense of "relational time" and the ability to enjoy moments of solitude rather than loneliness. However, in cases of being "enmeshed," there is often little time for personal space, and you may feel trapped in a state of constant togetherness. Members of enmeshed families tend to experience high levels of loneliness with limited opportunities for solitude. The objective is to illustrate this phenomenon by presenting transcripts from the initial 20 minutes of a family session involving a 17-year-old drug addict.

Q &A 
Gamze Özçürümez Bilgili 
Loneliness of the Traumatised 

We, as human beings, are born prematurely. Before completing our development, we are 'thrown into the world', making us dependent on the help and care of our environment for an extended period. Consequently, the significance of having others to protect us from various dangers, and an environment to provide support is extraordinary. Due to this inherent helplessness (Hilflosigkeit) at the core of our existence, it becomes imperative to establish lifelong bonds with others. Conversely, each time a major catastrophe occurs, the fundamental helplessness and the tremendous anxiety it generates resurface. The loss of loved ones, as well as the loss of familiar places and the home to which we are deeply attached, lead to real and psychical homelessness. The objective of this presentation is to contemplate the loneliness experienced by those who have been traumatized, viewed through the perspective of an earthquake survivor. 

Aleksandar Dimitrijević 
The Psychotherapist’s Loneliness 

Focused on helping others more than on helping themselves, psychotherapists often neglect their own well-being. Several empirical studies confirm that psychotherapists are often prone to self-harming behaviour, addictions, and suicide attempts. In this presentation, I will explore the possible role of loneliness in the lives and psycho(patho)logy of therapists. Beginning with the personality type/s that often stand behind the professional choice, we will discuss the role of countertransference reactions to patients’ chronic loneliness and the passion for psychotherapeutic work at the expense of “true” social life. In conclusion, some ideas about how psychotherapists could prevent and or overcome their loneliness will be shared, which will also serve as an invitation to the audience members to share their strategies and experiences. 

Panel Discussion with Q&A