Two Views On Working Online

Bernd Leygraf and Jean Miller Directorate LDPRT

I remember the earlier days of Corona when trainees and supervisees (alongside the author!) pronounced that, basically, therapy was coming to an end. Forever! We were all adamant that working on zoom from one’s own home was severely compromising confidentiality, and not being able to feel, touch, smell others was a severe impediment to therapeutic work. It just wasn’t the same! There were visions of droves of clients losing their therapists and therapists losing their clients and training courses leaning into bankruptcy. Now, six months into the pandemic, and to my surprise, things have turned out differently. Many trainees have learnt to work through an electronic platform and many seemingly disenchanted clients have returned to therapy. The sceptre of what we thought Corona would bring is much diminished: therapists are learning to be a little less rigid (do we have to all appear before a well-stocked book shelf?) Clients, well, seem happy not to have to travel to their sessions and students seem well at home with “breakout rooms”, sharing “whiteboards”, muting microphones (or cameras if there is a bad hair day) and that not all could talk at the same time. So far so good.

My own prediction is that the bravado of what appeared manageable will soon wear off. If it hasn’t already. Only fools would assume that the current pandemic (is it a pandemic or more mass hysteria ?) and its aftermath (economy, jobs, universities, travel) will not only leave huge scars to what we assumed to be a normal life, our social fabric, a sense of community, being able to hold someone close, our definition of what ‘real’ means, real relationships, real sex, real intimacy, real contact. So, what remains?

I suspect, for therapists, that we somehow learnt to compensate for the real encounter in the therapy room. We may have learnt to observe more of the minutiae of facial expressions (or even use the backdrop to the clients face on the screen as “information”. How does this client live?). We may have experienced that some client populations (disabled, minorities of some description, those in far flung places) seem to take to zoom with greater ease than others. The computer screen canbe seen as more disinhibiting or shaming than the real encounter.In other words, there is so much more to the impact on clients of working online than we have yet understood.

– Bernd Leygraf

As Bernd describes above, my own online working experience pre-lockdown was limited. I regularly held supervision sessions and irregularly worked with clients. I found the connection through VSee halting, which led to unclear images of clients and their voices coming and going at the most inopportune moments, for example, at a moment of revealing something difficult to me or as conflict wasdeveloping.With the advent of online training, I surprisingly found myself very gung-ho – we can do it! If others can teach on Zoom, how hard can it be? It turns out- it is quite hard! Many late-night Zoom tutorial sessions later, Zoom teaching is embraced and just about manageable with plenty of help. In my case, from my youngest son — the millennials have this!

This led to an embracing of Zoom and FaceTime with clients, following financial commitment to improved IT and my greatest discovery — Ethernet connection rather than the dodgy WiFi in my home. Once you have the more stable technology and insist on clients taking the time initially to sit in a well-lit room and position themselves so you can see them well, the difference is revelatory. I now find that with this in place, the client is much closer than they were in the room. This often creates a much more intimate space than previously. An example of this is some depressed clients who used to speak of being depressed but had clearly made an effort to get up, travel to the session and appear more together, were now appearing in close-up on the screen, from their home. They were sometimes still in bed, slightly dishevelled, wrapped in bedding. This was an immediate hit of how they were living their lives. The close-ups rendered their expressions of blankness or eyes welling as they were moved, impossible to miss. The close contact on the screen also meant I couldn’t, as I would normally, look thoughtfully out the window occasionally, but stayed, for most of the session, gripped in the shared screen time. This way of being is intense and can be exhausting but is invaluable.

– Jean Miller

The views and opinions expressed in these blog posts are held by the author(s) and are for general interest in the field. These blog entries do not attempt give advice to the reader, they are for educational and information purposes only.

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.