“5 Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic” With Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes
Massive changes to our educational system are needed and teenagers are asking for it. The level of anxiety, depression and suicide has skyrocketed simply because we are ignoring the mental health needs of teens. We forget that they also need to be social and learn how to connect with others. Until social-emotional skills are considered as important as science and math skills, we will continue to see young people suffer. A stronger emphasis on social-emotional health is needed across our country.
I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Jennifer B. Rhodes. Jennifer’s journey as an intuitive healer has taken many twists and turns through the years. She is a licensed clinical psychologist, dating/relationship coach, image consultant, 200 hour ISHTA trained yogi, meditation instructor and founder of Rapport Relationships, LLC. She started her healing career trained in the science of psychology only to go through her own spiritual journey to reveal what she has always known — that she is an advanced intuitive who believes that psychology’s focus on simple cognitive behavioral techniques does not fully heal our histories of relationship based trauma. Today, Dr. Rhodes incorporates her intuitive and healing skills into her therapy and coaching practice. She is passionate about helping people cope with their own healing journeys and combines the science of psychology with individually curated intuitive guidance to fit the needs of her clients. She focuses her practice on issues pertaining to depression, anxiety, empaths/sensitivity and relationships (dating, couples therapy, and divorce based work). She believes that our most important teachers come in the form of people meant to make an impact in our life. In this sense, relationships matter most. Dr. Rhodes received her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology at Yeshiva University in 2008. She completed her APA accredited internship and her first post-doctoral fellowship in Infant and Preschool Mental Health at Tulane University Medical School where she was trained in attachment theory and relationship based clinical intervention. During this time she also received her Basic and Advanced Divorce Mediation certification at Loyola Law School. In 2010, Dr. Rhodes completed post-doctoral training in forensic psychology at the Institute for Violence, Abuse and Trauma. Over the years, Dr. Rhodes has presented to academic audiences on the assessment of parent-child relationships in the context of custody disputes with allegations of abuse and trauma as well as issues pertaining to coping with narcissistic partners. She has also been an instructor at Alliant International University and Palo Alto University in their clinical psychology programs. Dr. Rhodes is the forthcoming author of Toxic Insecurity: Why Relationships Matter Most in Our Search for Love.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us? What was it that led you to your eventual career choice?
When I was in elementary school, I wanted to be a magazine editor or work as a teacher. Things went a little differently in high school when my father passed away suddenly. My family had always been wary of mental health treatment. Without telling my family, I started attending group therapy for teens that had lost their parents. There were 20 of us — which was shocking. I thought I was alone but clearly I was not. The experience changed my life and I decided to become a psychologist so that I could help children get through their losses with more support. Turns out that this career path has led me to doing both teaching and writing! I’m extremely grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to help people as a psychologist.
I was trained very scientifically and academically but have always been committed to the study and clinical practice of relationships. On a random road trip in 2003, after I broke up with my boyfriend of 5 years, I ended up on Canal Street in New Orleans looking up at Tulane University Medical School. I knew that I would go there for training. Tulane is the home of one of the most well known attachment researchers and I committed my graduate school years to ending up there for internship. In 2007, my goal had been achieved. I arrived in Post-Katrina New Orleans. Those two years in NOLA changed my life for the better and taught me the value of relationships and humanity.
I, however, went through the most devastating breakup of my life during those years in NOLA. The man I thought I was going to marry, ghosted me after 1.5 years of dating (and let his mother tell me). It was this later experience that propelled me to obtain my divorce mediation certification, train in family law, open a child forensic psychology practice and eventually open a dating/relationship consulting practice.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Psychology is always interesting! I was working at the Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma in San Diego and training forensic psychology students. We had a field trip to a California state prison to see how psychologists conduct their work in such a setting. The students were excited and nervous — spending most of their time double checking they were not violating the rules of which colors to wear into the prison. We had a warm welcome from both the psychology team and the warden. After the tour, we were escorted into the guards room. My students stopped and stared at the wall of photos. One of them asked, “Are those online dating profiles?!” The guard indicated that they were. We were then told that one of the principle ways men were able to get money into their commissary was to smuggle a cell phone into the prison and set up an online dating account. They would then encourage the women to bring them money. The ones on the wall had been very successful at it.
Needless to say, my students all deleted their accounts immediately!
Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?
Psychology internship placement is incredibly competitive these days. You are told to apply to at least 30 sites and, if you are a good candidate, you will likely get 50% of those inviting you for an interview. My interview at Tulane was my last one of a month of traveling around the country and answering the same questions over and over again. I was tired and given that this was January 2007, everyone (including my mother) knew that New Orleans was not a safe city post Katrina. Being from New York, however, I did not worry. My flight arrived around 8pm and my taxi driver asked me where I was going. When I said the Holiday Inn Super Dome, he asked me if I was sure.
That’s when I knew I was going to be in for a long 2 days!
My taxi driver started asking about my family, why I was in NOLA, and then told me his Katrina story. He had evacuated with his immediate family to Houston but some of his family died in the flooding. I listened to the whole story in complete awe of the strength it must have taken to return to such a devastating city after such loss. When we arrived at my hotel, the surrounding area looked like a war zone. He was so worried about my safety he escorted me into the hotel and told me not to leave at night. At the same time, the National Guard arrived and I, being a silly New Yorker, asked about food delivery. The front desk clerk laughed at me and stated that no one really delivered before Katrina and no one was going to deliver now.
I was exhausted. I was scared. I was hungry. I called my mother crying and she simply told me, “You can figure this out.” So I did — after a major meltdown when I realized there was also nothing in the vending machines. I found a phone book and started calling pizza places nearby. Most of them never picked up the phone.
I called Domino’s and they did pick up. I asked how much it would be for them to deliver a pizza. They started laughing and then told me their Katrina story of how the building was still standing and why I was lucky they were still open. They initially refused to deliver but somehow I convinced them otherwise. I honestly think they took pity on a girl with a New York accent! One very overpriced pizza later, I had dinner and I shared it with the front desk clerk and a member of the National Guard. They both laughed at me being the New Yorker who refused to give up on food delivery!
The next day consisted of 8 hours of interviews. I was so exhausted that I didn’t care anymore. I spilled coffee on my future supervisor, told her the above story and then proceeded to say I didn’t really care if there was any consultation-liaison training at the hospital because I wasn’t interested (and they weren’t sure the hospital would be open). Then I shared the above story with the director of psychology who laughed and wanted to know the name of the Domino’s delivery person — she mentioned she probably knew him.
I’m convinced that I matched to Tulane due to my sense of humor, problem solving skills and not being overly serious in the interview. The Tulane team remains one of the most relationship oriented group of professionals in my field I’ve met in my career to date. A sense of humor and real life experience was essential to survive the conditions in Post-Katrina New Orleans. I try to remember that a good sense of humor is important every time a new career opportunity or a difficult client comes my way. Being overly serious often does not get you what you want.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am currently working on a book called Toxic Insecurity. It is a culmination of my professional experience working with the science of relationships. It also discusses spirituality and the return to the idea of conscious relationships. More than half of our country suffers from toxic insecurity which most often stems from relational trauma. We are a very traumatized society and yet conventional dating advice tells people to “run away” from others who are either anxious or have some other intimacy issues. It also seeks to blame us when we make “bad” dating decisions. The purpose of the book is to help people understand that if so many of us have had some trauma, maybe we should be less of a jerk to each other throughout our dating journey. I throw in some of my personal experiences to highlight that we have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to experimenting in our personal lives. Our culture is judgemental but we don’t have to choose to be. There are always reasons for the difficult relationships — they are where our most important learning takes place.
I am also working on developing a date coaching training program that incorporates both the science and spiritual aspects to dating and relationships. My goal is to teach others to access their intuition when making decisions about relationships rather than sit in their anxiety. Whether someone wants to coach professionally or not, the education about relationships helps make your personal life something that seems less problematic and more of a journey.
Can you share with our readers a bit why you are an authority about the topic of the Loneliness Epidemic?
In 1998, I wrote a paper for a sociology class discussing the Columbine school shooting. The premise of that paper was that the disconnect that young people feel due to a lack of social support. In 1998, I argued that if we did not change, this behavior would continue to fuel anger and impulsive actions. At that time, it was clear that a combination of bullying, lack of social support and access to weapons fueled the attack. More than twenty years later, we have an epidemic and nothing has changed for the better. People really should be very concerned about the lack of response to the primary issues in these cases. While access to firearms is a major issue, the anger that is continuing to rise due to a lack of understanding that we are all more alike than not, should make everyone very concerned about our future.
Now I work with young people under the age of 35 and everyone feels lonely, disconnected and angry. In my practice, they believe that finding the right relationship will cure their discontent but the core issues are much, much deeper. Anxiety and depression are growing in our teenagers. There have been higher levels of avoidance of relationships and marriage in general. And now we are being incubated in fear, led to believe by our media that other people are always out to hurt us. It isn’t true but unless our education system begins to address the need for more social-emotional support, this trajectory will likely not change. And our history of trauma is not helping us see things from a different perspective. We, as a culture, have been heading for a meltdown for a long time.
My background as a psychologist that has focused on relationships along with my clinical practice makes me an expert on the topic. It is what I do everyday and I work to heal people so that they can see that we are all more alike than not. Loneliness is just a symptom that can be ameliorated with the right support.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this story in Forbes, loneliness is becoming an increasing health threat not just in the US , but across the world. Can you articulate for our readers 3 reasons why being lonely and isolated can harm one’s health?
Science has shown for decades that relationships matter most. The Harvard Study on Adult Development started out decades ago as a longitudinal study interested in how we age. Now, the conclusions of that research indicates that especially for men, relationships matter most in quality of life in old age. Robert Waldinger, head researcher, is quoted as saying, “Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”
We have the science on this topic and have had it for a long time. Yet, we simply do not prioritize or take the role of relationships seriously. We teach our children that playing is silly, that play dates are not as important as their school work, that art/music and other forms of creativity which promote social skills is not important etc…It makes complete sense to me why the anxiety levels have skyrocketed. Sensitive children need emotionally supportive relationships to thrive. Their anxiety should be a sign that we need to change our education system NOW.
The first reason why loneliness kills has to do with the mindset of the person who is lonely. We have taught people that being around others is enough to feel connected. It is not. There is nothing worse than feeling lonely when you are surrounded by other people! Feeling connected starts with feeling connected to yourself and understanding that we are all more alike than not. Fear is the biggest issue most people have to overcome and it can only be overcome with a deep dedication to personal development. It is the reason why there has been a surge in interest in yoga and meditation but this interest is just a start. Our education system focuses too much on the mind and not enough on the mind-body-soul connection necessary for real intimacy.
Second, we do not teach children how to regulate their own energy around other people. So many people, by the age of 30 are so burnt out from pushing themselves in their careers that they can no longer appreciate the connections in their lives. Americans have been taught that independence is the pathway to success in adulthood, but the truth is, interdependence is more important. Our education system and workforce values independence at the expense of collaboration and relationships. It does not feel natural. Our brains need relationships to thrive and when you are deprived of connection, the negativity sets in.
Finally, you cannot learn to manage your emotions unless you have experience in relationships. Often loneliness is a sign that someone has been hiding their emotions due to negative feedback they have gotten from others. Emotion and behavioral regulation develops in childhood through our relationships with others. We learn to cope and manage our emotions in our relationships with our parents or significant adults early in our lives. I believe that the next generation is more sensitive and emotional than previous generations. Which is a wonderful gift. However, if they do not learn how to regulate this superpower, the tendency will be to isolate to deal with the overwhelming emotions. We all need new tools in our social and emotional tool boxes to deal with the increase in sensitivity.
Isolation and loneliness can literally kill your brain. We are designed to be social creatures.
On a broader societal level, in which way is loneliness harming our communities and society?
I would love for someone to calculate how much money is being lost. There is research to indicate that marrying the right person makes a difference in your bank account — not because they came into the marriage with money but because they are more likely to be a conscientious partner who will provide whatever it takes for the two of you to reach your goals. As a trained matchmaker and dating coach, I see people who value material wealth over emotional intelligence. I believe that this is the case simply because people are not aware of the science and make emotionally immature decisions in their love lives. The lack of education is doing damage to millions of people and costing us a lot of money in the long run.
In Asia, predominantly, but in other parts of the world, our economy has changed. For hundreds of years, men valued their work as an avenue for achieving the status needed for marriage. Now men in other countries are struggling with work and women have been building amazing careers. While we may celebrate the change in social status on the work level, we are missing the larger issue that these men do not have the education to transform their self-worth into another area of their life. Suicide rates will continue to climb as they believe their only social connections are tied to marriage. Men have a much harder time adapting to the decrease in marriage rates than most of us believe. Women tend to be better at figuring out how to get their emotional needs met through their friends and other social activities.
Loneliness is an epidemic that definitely has its roots in our economy and it is now time for a change. If our world economy and the way we make money continues to shift, so will our social systems and people will need much more support to successfully transition during this difficult time.
The irony of having a loneliness epidemic is glaring. We are living in a time where more people are connected to each other than ever before in history. Our technology has the power to connect billions of people in one network, in a way that was never possible. Yet despite this, so many people are lonely. Why is this? Can you share 3 of the main reasons why we are facing a loneliness epidemic today? Please give a story or an example for each.
- Technology is a tool, not a solution. We all have information overload. If you stare at Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and your online dating profile every day — there are so many opportunities for connection that you simply choose not to connect! And if you do, the connection is not emotionally rewarding. Most people have to be taught how to use the technology more effectively and be taught to value a profile as if they were meeting that person in real life.
- Everyday a client tells me that everyone on online dating is “boring.” Or “all the good ones are taken.” It isn’t true — it’s just a perception. Last month I sat down with a male client who was complaining about his options in NYC and I showed him some pictures of coffee cups. I asked him which one he liked — he couldn’t choose. I then showed him some outfits on the internet and asked him what he liked — he couldn’t choose. I told him if he couldn’t choose a pair of shoes or a mug, how the heck did he think he could choose a wife? I recommended a vacation out of the country to help him clear his head before moving forward with dating. I think he is pretty representative of the average person these days. When we are fatigued we give up our power.
- Technology is an opportunity if you know self-care. Most of us do not realize how much negative energy we take into our brains and our bodies by just looking at social media. Most of us do not know how sensitive we are to other people’s energy. As a result, we get overwhelmed and shut down — not knowing why we are constantly exhausted. We do not teach people to take a weekend retreat in the woods or reconnect to nature. We just continue to do the same behaviors day in and day out and we wonder why our love of the world disappears. You simply cannot connect with others if you do not know how to take care of yourself.
- As part of my work as an intuitive dating coach and psychologist, I will often assess the degree to which someone is an empath and sensitive to energy. 9 out of 10 times they have been misdiagnosed with an anxiety disorder because they simply absorb toxic energy of unwell people. I met with a client over the summer who lived in New York City and did not know she actually took on the characteristics of the men she was dating. It was so bad I could tell who she had been on a date with in session without her telling me! These clients have to be taught that they are absorbing this energy through technology as well. We often recommend a digital detox prior to a new trial of online dating to clear the energy. Most of us need to do a digital detox once a quarter and learn how to clear our energy via meditation daily. Now with her yoga/meditation practice, she has figured out a strategy that allows her to connect with others without it overwhelming her.
- Relationships are hard work and most of us simply do not want to do it. The truth is many lonely people have had bad experiences with relationships (with family, friends, and dates). There is a lot of healing work to be done to get to the point where one can sit with situations and not get upset. Until that work has been done, it is easier to manage anxiety through avoidance. Most lonely people are avoiding connection for a reason and we don’t talk about it.
- In countries like the US where we are told that working 60 or more hours per week is normal, it is little wonder why we don’t want to do the work necessary for healthy relationships. We continually put off learning how to develop a relationship for our career only to panic in our 30s and sometimes 40s that we are still single. The matchmaking industry is a good example of this. People like to “order” a date but if that person does not match a checklist, then it is a “waste of time.” People need to learn that every person who shows up in your life is there for a reason and it is most often for us to learn. Choosing to be this vulnerable is not easy and most people would rather not try.
Ok. it is not enough to talk about problems without offering possible solutions. In your experience, what are the 5 things each of us can do to help solve the Loneliness Epidemic. Please give a story or an example for each.
- Personal Development: We are already seeing an increase in interest in yoga and meditation but our culture needs to support helping people move beyond the spiritual ego. It is not enough to do your personal growth work if you are not also committed to applying it to your relationships. Yoga and meditation studios can help people bridge this gap by building it into their regular practices or having a place for people to connect after their practices.
- Beyond psychotherapy: Therapy is helpful for understanding but it will not ameliorate loneliness. Therapists need to find ways to support clients in exploring other ways to heal their hearts so that they can be open to connection. Relational trauma will shut down your ability to see that others are looking for a connection too. Most of my clients have spent years in traditional psychotherapy and there has been little change. It was not until they were given alternative health options or prescriptions to dance, rest and travel that the willingness and ability to be open to connection emerged. Our modern day society needs to educate people on the multiple avenues available to them for their healing and empower them to choose. There are many wonderful options available!
- Our corporations need to prioritize personal relationships beyond the bottom line. Too many 20somethings are still drinking the kool aide that relationships are something to be avoided if you are serious about your career. It’s nonsense. What is needed is a mindful approach to meeting and networking. If the perception is that great relationships help our career and our bank account AND is supported by corporations, people will be motivated to change their perceptions. This shift will also help decrease the number of narcissists who end up in positions of power. Authenticity is necessary not the number of Twitter or Instagram followers. When corporations and industries move away from quantity towards quality, we can expect to see shifts
- I would like to see the online dating companies or anyone in the tech field who has developed an app aimed at connecting people together to commit money to the mental health care of those that are struggling with anxiety and depression. While many companies are adding coaching as a service, it will not be enough to combat these issues. Coaching is not appropriate for the treatment of anxiety and depression. That requires a higher level of professional intervention. Untreated anxiety and depression is probably the biggest issues facing people who are lonely. Funding mental health and wellness practitioners would significantly help a great deal of people.
- Massive changes to our educational system are needed and teenagers are asking for it. The level of anxiety, depression and suicide has skyrocketed simply because we are ignoring the mental health needs of teens. We forget that they also need to be social and learn how to connect with others. Until social-emotional skills are considered as important as science and math skills, we will continue to see young people suffer. A stronger emphasis on social-emotional health is needed across our country.
- Finally, we all need to become more aware if we are energetically sensitive or not. I believe that if we can identify those children who are emotionally and energetically sensitive and give them extra emotional/energetic support — you will see teenagers who thrive socially rather than teenagers miserable and hurting.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We have so much power that we give up to the false perception that we are alone! Few of us realize that if we have access to a cell phone and a dating app, the simple privilege of swiping left or right is real world power. It is power that should be taken seriously. While it is exhausting, our right to choose the very people who enter our lives is a privilege that many people in other parts of the world do not have. Loneliness, seen from this context, therefore becomes a symptom of giving up one’s personal power.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The next generation has the choice to do things differently — and I believe they will choose to do so. I would encourage any young person who is using online dating as a tool for their personal life (which a large portion of them are), to stop and think while they are swiping. We don’t have to be a bunch of self-involved a-holes. We can choose to date mindfully and with respect to other people. Can you imagine what it would be like if everyone with an online dating account was more interested in helping others find the right people than in getting their own needs met? Loneliness ends when we think beyond ourselves and I believe we can start a movement using the technology that is already present — we just need a shift in perception and commit to valuing relationships beyond a transactional arrangement.
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I would love to sit down and have lunch with Tim Ferris. His commitment to bringing necessary change to the field of psychedelic research will have a profound positive effect on our culture. Like most academic fields, change occurs when an outside person questions the status quo. I believe that the mental health community needed someone outside of academia to assist in the movement and I hope it will lead to profound change in the mental health world. I’ve also always appreciated his openness to sharing his personal struggles and how he has found ways to manage them. He was one of the first to begin to question the way and how we work and I think that the next generation will benefit tremendously from his work. Plus, he is also a tango dancer and did that one YouTube video on dating…I’m pretty sure he is responsible for all men posting shirtless photos with kittens on their online dating profiles! It would definitely not be a boring lunch!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Twitter and Instagram @jenniferbrhodes
“5 Things We Can Each Do To Help Solve The Loneliness Epidemic” With Dr Jennifer B Rhodes was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.