I AM an accredited psychotherapist and I am writing anonymously because I do not want the possibility that any of my clients will think I am compromising their privacy.
When lockdown began, I moved from person-to-person sessions to Zoom and Skype, and that has worked better than I imagined. But it’s not the same. Human communication is much more what is loosely called ‘body language’ than speech, and seeing all of a client is vital to tune in to the full picture of the stresses they are experiencing. Being in the same room as someone who cares is a core part of the therapeutic process. An electronic link is simply not the same and it can never be.
Almost a year on from the first lockdown, what has been the impact on clients? Most people come to therapy because their emotional responses to life’s problems feel disproportionate and worrisome to them and sometimes out of control. It’s as if they are in the grip of obstacles which just cannot be solved. They feel unsafe, unloved and unable to cope or find happiness.
This is usually because at some point in their past they have experienced problems with the care they have received – often through poor and sometimes abusive parenting, but also because they may have lost people they loved, through bullying or as a result of traumas when they have felt under severe existential threat and they continue to feel the impact. Another problem is social isolation, where there is a sense they are not connected either to the world or other people.
Why is this such a problem? The desire to be social and in touch with others is arguably one of the most powerful of human needs. Anthropoids evolved over millions of years as pack animals. Being part of ‘the group’ was essential for survival and it also means that our brain circuitry has evolved so that we rely on other people to help regulate our emotions and our behaviour. Humans can do that on our own to some extent through the prefrontal cortex (the uniquely human part of the brain) but the touch of a hand or a hug from a friend or relative can and does mean much more.
During lockdown, for people on their own, the powerful and essential lines of reassurance we normally get from our peer and family groups based on touch and intimacy are simply not happening. The consequence is escalating despair. All of us have a vulnerable child within us and he or she needs reassurance. Without it we are lost.