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Thoughts about working online
A supervisor once told me how, early on in his career, he’d held regular psychotherapy sessions in little more than a broom cupboard. A small space with no windows, and just enough room for two upright chairs. He explained that it was one of the few places in the hospital that afforded uninterrupted privacy.
The image stayed with me. Stale air, fluorescent light, metal buckets, dusty filing cabinets. There was something furtive about it. Yet it was not the limitations of the space that impressed me most; it was the fact that transformative work could – and did – take place in this space. That even without the things you would consider optimum, or even necessary, what mattered most was the connection between two people.
Although many analysts and therapists had been working online before 2020, the Covid pandemic forced a huge change in practice when there was no possibility of meeting face to face.
However, with the pandemic receding, we are now able to think more freely about working online. We can ask the question of whether we would do it by choice. Yet often the conversation gets stuck at the level of ‘compare and contrast’, with meeting in person being held up as the ‘gold standard’ against which everything is measured. For some, working online remains a ‘broom cupboard’ option, possible in a time of crisis, but not otherwise desirable.
More than a broom cupboard
In my experience, it is the quality of the connection that matters more than the medium – be that in person, online, or on the phone. Of course there are differences between all of these ‘modes’ which are worth thinking about, in the same way that pretty much everything is worth thinking about.
In Volume 68 issue1, Arthur Niesser explores some of the advantages of working online, continuing the conversation around this topic, and identifying the kinds of situations and people for whom working online has offered positive benefit.He also makes the point that some analysts and therapists will prefer to work online, moving the conversation from the ‘correct’ or ‘right’ way to do things, to it being more of a matter of preference and perhaps temperament.
“A colleague recently declared quite frankly that she much prefers to work online than to have patients in the house and seeing them face-to-face. It appears to me that, while rarely openly admitted, not all analysts are natural mothers who want their ‘children’ around them. Some prefer more distant relationships.” (Niesser P78)
In the same volume, Susan Tyler’s paper is also centred on online opportunities but from a very different angle. She explores how the use of online pornography reveals unconscious material that serves as a starting point for potential transformation in the psyche. She also surveys the context in which this is happening, with the internet and digital technology changing the way we experience the world. Referencing a paper by Knafo and Bosco (2017) she writes that they…
“set out a convincing argument about the ways in which technology is altering what it means to be human and affecting how we relate to one another. They describe how technology provides a sense of power, thrilling novelty and an opportunity to transcend the ordinary. The internet is a liminal space between opposing states where it is possible to straddle both experiences: self and other, presence and absence, benign and malignant, embodied and disembodied, internal and external.” (Tyler P8)
A question of temperament
It seems important that personal preference is part of the conversation about working online, rather than focusing exclusively on types of patients, their needs and history.
Just as we seek to create the environment that best supports us in our work – the right chairs, plants, rugs and lighting – so too do we have a choice about whether we want to work online. All sorts of factors will affect our decisions: analyst typology, attachment style, age and digital literacy.
In thinking about how typology may play a part in determining our best working conditions, it may also present an opportunity for development. As John Beebe (in Stone 2006) argues, that which is “least conscious or differentiated” is, paradoxically, the doorway to growth. So while we may be drawn to working in accordance with our typologically superior function, we may also benefit from working with our less comfortable or ‘inferior’ function too.
LEIGH MONEY is a Jungian Analyst (Society of Analytical Psychology). She works in private practice - in London and online - and has a particular interest in the ways that digital technology is reshaping our experience of being human, and in particular the ways we connect and communicate with each other. www.leighmoney.com
Views expressed in blogs are those of the named author and do not represent the Journal of Analytical Psychology
Niesser, A. (2023) Opportunities of online analysis, Journal of Analytical Psychology, 68, 1, 71–86
Stone, M. (2006) The Analyst's Body as Tuning Fork: Embodied Resonance in Countertransference. Journal of Analytical Psychology 51,109-124
Tyler, S. (2023) Seduction, deception and technology, Journal of Analytical Psychology, 68, 1, 7–26