When the order to shelter in place was implemented in Mid March, one of my clients made the astute observation that this period may redefine what we have to do in person or what can be done virtually. In essence, how are we going to adapt to, or redefine, connection in a world in which we can’t reach out and touch someone else?
This isn’t just a therapy issue — it’s a human issue. Quarantine goes against every instinct we have as human beings. As I’ve noted to clients, people are social; we crave touch and support from others. Even in our darkest moments of depression and anxiety, when the urge to self-isolate is strong, just a hug or the presence of another can lift us up. I’m sure I’m not the only one to think about Harlow’s baby monkeys more than once recently. Can you imagine one of them choosing the bottle carefully placed next to a Zoom call with its mommy monkey?
I’ll admit that I really miss seeing my clients in person. There is something special about sitting in a room with someone at their most vulnerable, and it’s a gift we are not just given, but entrusted. It seems sacrilege to even think that could be replaced with a computer. But then I think about the amazing leaps I’ve seen my clients make during this time. I’ve seen more self-compassion, more moderation of expectations (for themselves and others), less perfectionism, and more motivation to heal. I’ve noticed some folks articulating their needs in a way they couldn’t when the world was functioning normally. They’re the same people, and I’m the same therapist, so how is that possible?
Maybe it’s a forced sorting of priorities and self-reflection, or that a virtual barrier makes it easier to be open. Maybe it’s that my cat has popped into frame a few times during sessions, or that I’m effectively in someone’s home for an hour each week. Maybe the therapeutic alliance — the strongest predictor of therapeutic outcomes — is increasing because we are all in this together.
It could be those things or a million other things, but the implication is clear: there is potential for growth at any time, by any means. Yes, even Zoom.
I never thought I’d see a time in which our propensity for adaption and need for connection were forced to converge, but here we are. Isn’t it astounding how we’ve all gone out of our way to fulfill that biological need by any means necessary? There will never be a substitute for touch, but we are seeing the growth of a complement to it. It’s human resiliency at its finest.
Laura DeSantis is a licensed psychotherapist in San Francisco. She specializes in trauma therapy, anxiety, and identity formation. As a recovering perfectionist, she is passionate about rejecting achievement culture and forging one’s own path.
Originally shared on Medium.