Watching my client’s films
In the 60s people were fascinated by the irruption of the little screen into their homes.
This technical advance made the Broadway plays available for a much broader audience, and expanded the limits of people’s worlds. Later, in the 90s the development and success of the ‘little screen’ made professionals wonder if cinema theatres would survive whatsoever. During this past century we got used to the magical presence of the TV sets in our homes. And we eventually found out that television does not kill filmmaking, as some people are still willing to go out to see a movie.
Recently, something similar has been happening within the psychotherapy field. The technical evolution makes therapy through videoconferencing available for a much broader population, meaning that even those who have a fast moving and mobile life can do psychotherapy. The debate on how this new framework affects the process is on-going, and the fear that it could eventually wipe out the traditional face-to-face therapy is distinct.
Looking at the work of the American photographer Lee Friedlander, who poetically depicted the presence of the television screens in the human habitat in the 60s makes me re-think the now emerging online therapy phenomenon. There is something extremely lonely and desolated in these shots, in which there is often no witness to the drama happening on the screen: the crying eye or a child’s smile are left alone in these anonymous rooms, un-responded.
And there is also something so strikingly similar to my current therapy room: an empty chair, deserted by a client who is connecting with me from a distance, and a little screen with some unfolding drama on it.
Meeting in a no-place: what can we control?
Connecting with many of my clients in a no-place virtual space, I am aware of how informative their surroundings can be. The background chosen by the client tells me often as much as the client’s words, sometimes confirming them, sometimes contradicting, but always bringing the therapist closer to the other person’s reality.
Even unconsciously, the client is always conveying something to his therapist by the choice of his ‘decor’. Like the old hand crafted film settings, it is never anodyne: they always have a purpose, a character’s story to tell.
In the street photography, the only two things one can really control (as said by David Hurn in “On being a photographer“) are: where to stand, and when to click the shutter.
Within the online therapy frame, there are the same two things both the therapist and the client have control over: where to sit and when to click the connection button.
As opposed to traditional therapy, where the therapist is the only one to control his surroundings, which the client is invited to fit into for the time of the session, during an online session, both the client and the therapist can now choose ‘where to stand’ and when to click the ‘start’ and ‘end’ button.
This potentially makes both of them more equal participants in the meeting. This is one of the corner stones of the modernisation of the whole therapy process.
Watching the client’s film
Maybe because of my professional background as a set decorator and screenwriter in the film industry, I am extremely sensitive to the visual component in videoconferencing therapy sessions.
Witnessing my clients’ stories unfold on my computer’s ‘little screen’ I am often aware of the ‘watching the film’ quality of the process. Somehow the use of the screen medium on both sides of the communication enhances the storytelling quality of the whole experience. At the end, we are all so familiar with the drama unfolding on the screen, that it makes the whole process rather natural.
With its ‘long run’ aspect, therapy, cut into sessions (episodes), becomes a kind of TV drama, co-watched but also co-created by the client and the therapist.
If the traditional face-to-face psychotherapy is more of an oral art, practicing through videoconferencing brings me back to a more visual, imaginative, way of perceiving the clients’ life stories unfolding.
Maybe, dealing with the frustration due to the obvious lack of physical contact, makes me more inventive in the use of my sight as a way of compensation. Maybe, this is a natural adaptation to the new conditions – as in the case of someone loosing their sight, to then start developing a better ear.
There are some ‘little screen’ dramas that are able to move us, to touch some deep cords within us. Exactly as some books or old films used to do. They all have the same transformative potential as the ‘good old’ psychotherapy.
The online setting brings somehow these two together; the visual drama and the psychotherapy, allowing for further expansion and modernisation of the latter. The ‘online’ part replaying the same broadening role in the history of psychotherapy as the ‘little screen’ played some 60 years ago for the film industry.