It’s been a few years since I’ve had the privilege of journeying with a client. Yet time has not eroded the memories of moments of practice that touched the edges of intimacy and explored unearthed potential.
After the sun has set and my little ones are finally asleep, the house falls silent and I find myself in quiet reflection. These days my mind drifts to the new challenges we face with the impacts of COVID-19. I wonder how the field of psychotherapy will navigate our ‘new normal’. And I smile remembering wise words once said, “the bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity for growth.”
The widespread adoption of teletherapy has many benefits, especially for practitioners (like me) who have family living abroad and others seeking flexible working conditions. It is an enticing medium, yet I find myself questioning its efficacy. My therapeutic approach is grounded in relational psychotherapy and attachment theory and I believe interpersonal connection forms the basis of meaningful therapy. So, the question I ponder is, can I translate these interpersonal experiences on screen? Is a therapist able to touch a client’s mind and heart from a distance?
I like to think we can. In fact, the capacity for intimacy may increase when we allow clients to meet us in the safety and security of their own home. The distance that screens place between therapist and clients could be a comfortable advantage in a world where many find close and meaningful connection unfamiliar and perhaps intimidating. In the modern, hyper-connected world, teletherapy certainly has a role to play in delivering mental health support to those in need.
Yet I cannot deny my experiences of the power of physical presence. The cries of my teething baby are soothed by the slightest touch, a magical medicine wrapped in an exchange of energy. Proximity brings relief on a somatic, experiential level. We all know this. Friends and lovers know this; nothing can replace the physical presence of another.
Is there a way to identify the clients that need us to sit only a touch away? If I were practicing now, how would I navigate recognising this need and differentiating one client’s need from another? How would I accurately assess the efficacy and impact of teletherapy with each individual? Perhaps this conversation is one to be had with the client. An opportunity to open up a conversation about the need for closeness. Doing so may even deepen intimacy and invite an exploration that may otherwise not been had. Perhaps the client is not ready for this conversation and needs a different approach? There are no one-size-fits-all approaches. Once again we must rely on our professional and personal judgement.
I sit here savouring the quiet and extending my deepest respects to all the therapists out there navigating these challenges while guiding and accompanying others. Each of you is a lighthouse of inspiration in a stormy sea. Keep on shining!
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