We are a world in transition due to a pandemic that has affected us on a social, emotional, physical, professional and spiritual level. As a clinical psychologist with a focus on the relationship with ourselves and others, the effects are poignant and often life-changing.
To be more specific, the changes in how we conduct our professional lives are glaring. Working remotely from home has become commonplace. Studies show that in May 2020, 48.7 million people, about 35% of those employed, were working from home because of COVID-19. In contrast, pre-pandemic numbers were as low as 6%, with a high of 25%. We certainly aren’t out of the woods as far as the virus goes, so studies about lasting change need to be conducted.
Yet on a personal note, as a veteran therapist of 35 years, if you had asked me three years ago about teletherapy, I would have naively answered, “That isn’t therapy!” Fast-forward to July 2022, and I spend my weekdays on the telephone in the comfort of my living room conducting auditory sessions without video. The power of this modality astonishes me and many of my clients. Research indicates that trials with those suffering from PTSD, depression, anxiety, adjustment disorder, substance use and eating disorders have benefited equally from in-person and remote treatment. Furthermore, retention rates are higher with remote therapy.
Many of us in the workforce, across careers, have had to face the inevitable question of should we return to the office, stay at home or adopt a hybrid model? Often our employers have made that decision for us, but for others, it has not been as clear-cut. It has forced us to explore what is in the service of our best job performance balanced out by our personal wants and needs. And we can’t ignore that if we aren’t happy with our choices, our work will suffer. Thus at 65 years old, my living room has become my office Monday through Friday.
I have found that connecting by audio increases focus given it is only one sensory input where one’s concentration is enhanced by listening to content, tone, tempo and breath. It is often a personal preference about whether one is a visual or auditory learner. If there is a preference for the auditory, there is no distraction of sight.
I must confess sometimes I stand and walk around my living room and movement helps me process and likely my clients can do the same. In addition, lessons learned in sessions can be easily taken into living rooms without the abruptness of leaving an office. It coincides with the goal that lessons learned on the yoga mat should be taken “off the mat” into our everyday lives. Hopefully, insights and growth in therapy are transferred out of the office. The “couch” is our couch literally, an association, a reminder that can be invaluable.
The psychotherapy practice is a practice like yoga practice and meditation practice. It becomes a “remember session” where we tap into and remember who we are and what we feel, all in the service of health and healing. That alignment can easily be forgotten in a culture that has so many ways to forget and avoid our emotional experience that is core to our mental health. Hopefully, therapy at home helps us remember the “home” inside.
Teletherapy also is more “green” for folks since it reduces driving and the carbon footprint, allowing for more time in busy schedules. Many individuals actually find more safety at home to explore difficult issues which sometimes has to be balanced out with finding privacy from family and room-mates. The comfort of a closet, bathroom floor, or familiar chair can feel embracing — a healing sanctuary of sorts.
Yes, there are the cons of therapy on the phone, including the absence of visual cues and the intimacy fostered by close physical distance. It also may not be ideal for those challenged by hearing issues and those easily distracted by the demands of home. And the younger generation can find the phone foreign. I think my kids often prefer texting, which I am slowly getting used to. And of course, inevitably the start to my sessions are “can you hear me okay?” — something rarely necessary in person.
But as with most things, there are gains and losses. Where we work and how we work is a question many of us are now forced to answer. Yet as we attempt to adapt to the clatter in our lives as a result of the pandemic, listening to ourselves and others as we adjust to changing needs and realities remains paramount. “I hear you,” may be a simple phrase but this world needs it to become loud, clear and non-negotiable.
Priscilla Dann-Courtney may be reached through her website at: priscilladanncourtney.com.