Someone remarked to me today we are not only in a COVID pandemic but we are also in a Pandemic of Anxiety. But are we? I am finding that few of my ‘patients’ are now using their sessions to discuss the disease. Most of us seem to have come to the conclusion that for the time being we are all, scientists and politicians, GP’s too, conscripts of a ‘Cloud of Unknowing’. The only people who are acquiring knowledge about the disease are the doctors on the front line, and their colleagues the clinically orientated scientists and virologists in the labs. The question of our future immunity continues to be as important to COVID as cracking the code of the origins of unconsciousness is to neurology.
Working as a psychotherapist almost everything about the therapeutic encounter has changed which is what my essay in progress is about. We don’t even have the indispensable prop of the eponymous Kleenex tissues to hand out…We are no longer keepers of anything except time. Or its illusion.
The following is an illustration (having submitted it to the ‘patient’ for approval and their edit) of some of the challenges of a Zoom session. Yet, despite its vagaries the session was pregnant with meaning. The excerpt below focuses on the structure and not the content:
This zoom was with one of my new clients. We started meeting towards the end of last year, which meant he consulted with me both in my old consulting rooms at Gloucester Place and then for one visit only in my lost domain in Devonshire Street. A challenging intellectual and entrepreneur, in late middle-age, who has had a rocky emotional life. Only after his father’s deathbed conversation did he overcome his scepticism or emotional reticence to seek out a therapist.
As with everyone now consulting via Zoom, I have become accustomed to visiting many homes. I may press the ‘Admit’ button, but from then on I am outside of familiar therapy territory. I am now familiar with the floor plan of his house but for privacy sake our location is often the bedroom. Today, we were in the drawing room. Best of all is his library. (This is beginning to sound like Cluedo.) I often sign out with a reading list. Today, it is Jared Diamond and Stephen Pinker’s: A Sense of Style. The latter already ordered. I shall be busy.
I almost laughed as much as at Matt Lucas’s satiric impersonation of Boris Johnson, when immersed in thought, he repeatedly dropped his IPhone. Our connection frequently disrupted as his image hurtled like a trapeze artist through the ether. The phone must have fallen at least six times; luckily he was not in the bath. Doorbells and deliveries have become an important and regular intrusion into all our lives. Zoom sessions are no exception. Whether you are therapist or ‘patient’ the doorbell is liable to ring. In my case this provokes Dido into battle mode while I turn a deaf and defiant ear.
This morning his bell rang; I found myself accompanying my him downstairs to his front door, which he opened to receive a parcel. The only time anyone ever left my consulting room during a session was to visit the loo. I watched him with curiosity open the parcel. It turned out to be a book by another author he had previously recommended. It might sound credulous but alongside all of this superficial paraphernalia, which many other therapists might think of as our outlandish behaviour, we did some penetrative and painful emotional work which affected both of us. Zoom or no, we were penetrating deeper and deeper into the unique hinterlands of his psyche. And that is all that matters.