Psychologists see more in solitude than just 'unproductive moments'

October 23, 1991|By Garret Condon | Garret Condon,The Hartford Courant

IN A PERIOD of only a few months, Kathy Airoldi of West Hartford, Conn., bought a house, got bumped out of her teaching job of 10 years and separated from her husband.

The 43-year-old teacher and track coach dealt with the stress by being alone.

A sometime marathon runner whose typical daily run of eight miles takes her out of the house for an hour, Airoldi says occasional solitary weekends on Cape Cod and the loneliness of the long-distance runner are comforts to her.

In desiring solitude, Airoldi is not alone.

Many pyschotherapists consider solitude a basic human need. In his 1988 book, "Solitude: A Return to the Self," British psychologist Anthony Storr argued that the definition of mental health must recognize the importance of solitary periods.

The benefits of taking time alone may go far beyond the realm of mental health, says Dr. James J. Gill, a psychotherapist and Catholic priest who works as a consultant at Hartford's Institute of Living.

Gill, who works in Hartford with over-stressed professionals, also is involved in research in San Francisco that is exploring the problems of stress and its effect on physical health.

"Solitude makes it possible for you to keep your well-being optimal by giving you an opportunity to deal with the past and the future, along with the present," says Gill. Facing the pain and failures of the past, he says, is a good way to start eradicating their causes. Solitude also helps people do some solid planning for and anticipation of the future, Gill says, "so you don't just take the events of life as they come."

Perhaps the first step in the quest for solitude is to want some. For many raised in a culture of boom boxes and television, this isn't easy.

"An individual has to be able to develop a taste for it," says Richard B. Clarke, an Amherst, Mass., psychotherapist.

He says that children, growing up with television, rock music and endless activities, often have an underdeveloped taste for soli

tude. Without some positive solitary experience, people left to their own devices "may feel something disturbing about the absence of activities. It may drop into boredom or they may feel they're going crazy when they are without the usual distractions."

"Americans, in general, are reluctant to get to know themselves in depth," says Gill, who says that many of his therapy clients are hard-driving professionals who claim to have no time for solitary, "unproductive" moments.

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