Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Connection or Contact?

When I started as a psychotherapist, long before mobile phones or email, it was easier to maintain a therapeutic relationship than it is now. I don't think my skill in managing the relationship has declined; it has to be that something else has changed. Technology has provided us with many more means of almost instant contact, mobiles, texts, tweets, Facebook and instant messaging, apps on your phone to find out  who is nearby...But contact is often momentary and to exchange small amounts of relatively superficial information. 

The requirement  of constancy and the perseverance that is needed to create a deep therapeutic relationship is so counter-cultural to the notion that the customer is king and gratification should be immediate or you should move on. Much of my practice is in Central London where this may be worse. Many people are just moving through or working in the media industry where they may have to change projects or go abroad or work late at a moment's notice.

My parents were born not long after the First world war and stability was desired after the turmoil, I was born not that long after the Second with probably a similar cultural need. Families often still had the static (even stiffling) structure that patriarchy provided so well. Now families and living arrangements are often re-formed in childhood, things are more fluid. Duty and commitment have given way to  "taking the waiting out of wanting" as one credit card advert put it; "Do it Now!" was a slogan of the late 60's. Things, rather than feeling rigid or monolithic now often feel rather fragile and temporary; including relationships. 

In conventional therapy terms we are talking about attachment and what can turn contact to connection to enduring relationship. Early good attachment in the first few years requires an adequately attuned and empathic caregiver with enough support and protection.  Sadly today many did not grow up with that and their sense of self and their attachment styles are more fluid, and sometimes chaotic. Their unconscious fears easily support the cultural permissions to make distance, move on, go shopping, and become too busy. I read recently that some American college students were seeking help from consultants in how to date. They were able to do the "hookup" for sex or to just "hang out together" arranged  through all the electronic media but what they couldn't do was create or deepen relationship. One of the reasons for this is the prevalence of shame as a core experience. The hallmark of shame is a wish to hide. The best way of hiding is to simply disappear from the relationship.There may be a positive side to this but it makes the job of psychotherapy much more difficult because I still have not found a substitute for a solid, continuing therapeutic relationship for real growth and healing.

1 comment:

  1. Such are the perils of the Liquid Modern age. I have a large number of attractive, intelligent, articulate, confident clients, young women who can easily have sex but who struggle to maintain lasting relationships.

    In the Facebook age of superficial contact, deeper relationships require an exposure of self which many find increasingly challenging. I often wonder what the result of this lack of engagement will be in 20-30 years time. This is something as a society that I think we need to be profoundly conscious of and to support change around.

    As you say, a deep, lasting therapeutic container where we model relationship is the only way I know how to do this. No surprise then that many of these clients cannot sustain that relational contact, even within the therapeutic space.