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Overcoming Loneliness: A Catholic Therapist Shares the Keys to Building Meaningful Connection

Earlier this year, the surgeon general called loneliness a public health crisis and underscored its devastating impact in our society. Father Dave welcomes Regina Boyd, Catholic licensed mental health counselor and marriage and family therapist, to discuss this and her new book, “Leaving Loneliness Behind: 5 Keys to Experiencing God’s Love and Building Healthy Connections with Others.

Father Dave first asks Regina about her experience as a Catholic therapist, and the intersection between mental health and faith. Regina shares some common questions she receives in her practice, “‘What does it mean when somebody is going to see a therapist? Does it mean I’m trusting God any less? Should I be only talking to my priest?’ My belief is that when we take care of our minds and our bodies, we’re being good stewards of our bodies; therefore, we’re really doing a spiritual work. We know the Catechism talks about that integration of body and soul, and so I really believe that you are doing something beautiful and spiritual when you take care of yourself.”

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They discuss how loneliness began rising in the 2010s, but the COVID-19 pandemic fanned the flames. Regina posits one cause of isolation, saying, “I think social media has a big part in [rising loneliness], and how people relate to it. The pandemic just exacerbated that and left us feeling more isolated and less connected. Even though we’re connected in all these technological ways, are we really forming those deep emotional bonds that help us feel supported and like we’re grafted to a community?”

“I think for our younger people, it depends how you’re relating and interacting with people online,” she continues. “I think it can sometimes be an isolating experience when we see the highlight reels of other people [on social media], and we have this introspective conversation with ourselves about, ‘Well, why aren’t I doing that?’”

Regina discusses one of her five keys to overcoming loneliness, which is learning to reconnect with others. “We’re made for connection, to be in relationships with others; we have a God who is a triune God, and already existing in relationship…we’re designed to be together and not walking through this life so individualistically that we don’t need anyone else,” she says. “We want to be paying attention to [a person’s] genuineness, authenticity and a depth to the relationship. When you think about all of the levels of friendship – stranger, acquaintance, friend, family member, spouse – we have varying levels of intimacy with which we exchange that depth. If we have a few of those more solid bonds, that’s really the authenticity that we’re looking for.”

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Another key Regina notes is communicating with others, even through conflict. “People assume that conflict is bad for our relationship. If you’re having a lot of fights or arguments, that means the relationship is unhealthy; that’s not necessarily true,” she says. “The key is how do we navigate the conflict? Can we look at conflict as opportunities for growth, to learn more about someone to hear where they’re coming from?…Can I be in a disposition of openness and say, ‘Wow, this is an opportunity for me to get to know you better and find out why you hold that belief’? When I learn that, then I’m able to help us come to a better solution that we can agree on together.”

Regina continues, “We all have stories of coming through a conflict successfully…where you’ve had that disagreement and overcome it, and it still has kept your relationship intact, and maybe even made it stronger. When we’re willing to go there, it can be quite a beautiful, transformative experience.”