All of a sudden, a few months ago, our lives went from IRL (In Real Life) to online. Restrictions to keep us safe meant our connections to the world outside had to be diverted via the virtual realm. Suddenly Zoom was THE word du jour and lo and behold the good old-fashioned telephone made a comeback. Overnight I converted my practice from face to face meetings in Central London to online sessions from my study at home.
What has been the impact of this massive adjustment to our lives? What is present when we go online especially for therapy? How have our relationships been impacted? Lots of questions come to mind, but I sense we’re too much in the thick of it at present to really gain clear insight, that will come with time (cue countless books and research studies), but for now I wanted to do a little exploration.
So ok let’s face it, nothing can replicate meeting another face to face in the physical present. I for one miss being in the presence of another’s energy, being able to pick up on someone’s subtle moods and those less obvious non-verbal communications, such as a tapping knee or toe. Meeting online lacks that physical intimacy.
We become disembodied through our virtual communications, a floating torso through the frame of our laptops. The rest of our bodies are hidden from view. We appear close up and yet the reality is that we’re far away. This dissonance can be unnerving. There is a space created between the truth and what we may want to believe. You could stroke a loved one’s face on screen, but alas they won’t actually feel your touch.
The act of going online to connect also means we miss those impromptu moments with others, such as the chats by the water cooler, passing on the stairs or the flirty double take down the street. We lose those chance encounters, where sometimes it seems fate intervenes and steers us towards a new direction. Those moments cannot be manufactured or forced. They just are.
Our main way of communicating, connecting and working has fundamentally changed and this will be with us for a while. We shouldn’t try to kid ourselves that we can replicate what we had before. Doing that will only exhaust us further. There has been a shift and through that a loss has occurred. Avoidance isn’t an option.
And what about therapy?
For me, since 17 March, I moved my practice online for the time being. And so far, so good. I used to be a tad sceptical about online therapy, much preferring to meet my clients physically in the same room. But these past months have shown me that online work does have some advantages.
For one, I have much more flexibility as to what sessions I can offer my clients which has been really helpful, especially during this time when all our lives have been turned upside down in various ways. I also notice a shift in the power dynamics. No longer are clients meeting me in my room, in my location, but they choose the setting for their therapy, the comfort, the lighting, the noise and the all important privacy.
I’ve really appreciated “meeting” clients in their homes and understanding more about their worlds. As psychotherapist Susie Orbach recently wrote, “We are seeing a physical interior – a study, bedroom, shed or kitchen, and being surprised by an occasional child that floats in. We hear the suddenly hushed voice of someone not wanting their partner to get a drift of the conversation we are having. It illuminates aspects we didn’t see before.” Of course, nothing can replace meeting in person, but based on my limited experience, I believe effective work can be achieved online and for the time being this is the safest and most practical way of working.
The jury is still out for me on whether Transpersonal therapeutic moments of working can be achieved online. These are moments where we experience a meeting of souls. Where the work drops to a far deeper level of intimacy and connection. And for now, I am not sure if an online platform can provide the setting for such experiences. But it’s early days and I think the more comfortable we become to this way of working, the more chance there is of these kinds of encounters. As writer Olivia Laing recently said, it just takes imagination to pierce the barrier of the glass of the computer screen. And I think a little imagination is absolutely what we need right now.
Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash