By Elizabeth Goldstein, PhD
Quite some time ago, I was inspired to write a blog post about the pros and cons of using technology for psychotherapy. Suddenly, in the midst of social distancing for Covid-19, I’m motivated to put finger to keypad. So many people are wondering about how using various forms of technology is going to help or hinder psychotherapy while around the world we are all implementing a global pandemic protocol. Pre-pandemic, my thesis was going to be, “the use of technology has its challenges, but whether it’s therapeutic has a lot to do with the function being served by its use.” To me, the effect of technology wasn’t so much about the technology itself, but rather, the psychology of the humans using the technology. I was going to write about how interacting with others via electronic media can serve an avoidant function for some, or be akin to an addiction, or, alternatively, increase intimacy, or, open up new possibilities in creative ways. Those points were all based on individuals choosing to introduce various technological methods into their lives. Whereas now, we are all doing it as a starting point.
Well, I suppose, as a starting point, it’s good to remember that there is a choice to be made. In these uncertain times when it feels that so many choices are out of our control, whether to engage in psychotherapy via electronic media remains a choice, for the client and for the therapist. There are risks associated with the choices that affect access to care on the patient end, and ability to provide care on the therapist end. Still, a choice is to be made, even if it feels that telemedicine is the only reasonable choice. As the immediate urgency of the Covid-19 threat ebbs and becomes more ambiguous, the feeling of choice becomes more apparent. And with it, new opportunities for anxiety. Ultimately, recognizing that we have choices, even if the correct choice seems obvious, can help us feel more powerful and less helpless.
In the past, I felt gratitude for the convenience of being able to text with patients to confirm appointment times, or meet via video conference while one of us is away. But now I feel gratitude in new ways. We are so lucky to be able to find ways to connect with each other in real time during our social isolation. However, I notice that using technology to meet with people is really a mixed experience - a complex fluctuating combination of excitement, intimate connection, drudgery of machine usage, and feeling satisfied, but, often, not fully satisfied, and sometimes drained.
As a whole, mental health professionals are lucky that what we do translates to remote settings, unlike other services, which have to be put on hold. But this also puts us in a more ambiguous position as the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Vermont Department of Health open up a little bit.
My colleagues and I at Mansfield Psychotherapy Associates have been in consistent conversation as the Covid-19 situation unfolds. Each of us has our own individual psychotherapy practice and share a common waiting area. For now, each of us is seeing our patients remotely, some of us even have openings for new patients. As the recommendations change we will continue to be in dialogue. Likely, we will develop slightly different strategies based on our unique personal needs and those of our patients. I realize how vague that sounds. In these times of uncertainty, it would be lovely to provide some certainty. What is certain is that decisions will be made thoughtfully, based on weighing potentially competing needs for in-person contact and Covid-19 risk reduction.
Each blog post is solely the opinion of the author of the post and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of other Psychotherapists in Mansfield Psychotherapy Associates. We value each other's unique perspectives in a mutually respectful, independent manner.