I set out to write this blog post at the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic, several months ago. My colleagues were all switching to videoconferencing, and I instead started doing all of my work over the phone.
I was already working with roughly half my clients over the phone, mostly because they weren’t local. But I had never run a process group over the phone and was nervous about how it would go.
One question that comes up regularly is why? Why the phone, not video?
Early on I noticed that being on a video conference was uniquely draining. People have since written about “zoom fatigue” and the disorienting effect of being “in the presence of others’ absence.” For me, I discovered that it was much harder to stay embodied, to stay present with my own feelings and sensations.
If you’re a therapist, keeping track of your own gut-reactions, thoughts, feelings and felt-sense experience while working with people is essential. If you run groups, it is even more crucial.Our bodies and psyches are our instrument. As we sit with an individual, couple, family or group, we absorb information, psychic patterns and unprocessed emotional energy on behalf of the people we’re working with. Our own system processes their unresolved excrescences. This is also why it’s incumbent upon us to be in our own therapy. We need to ensure that this material moves through us. If it doesn’t, we get clogged. Eventually, we burn out.
Video was too stimulating for me, especially with groups. I had the urge to look at everyone’s little box simultaneously. I felt constrained to stare at the screen. Looking away from the screen, closing my eyes and wearing an eye mask all helped with this. On the phone, I found a new intimacy. The person I was speaking to was literally, “in my ear.” Their voice, brought to me through headphones, was closer to me than most conversations.
I also noticed that as I paid more attention to the person’s voice, I heard nonverbal behaviors that I didn’t pick up as well over video or even in person! What did that slight pause mean? That subtle shift in tone? I was affirmed by a couple articles that supported the conclusion that we’re actually better able to identify emotional cues when we’re relying on audio alone, rather than audio and video, or even in person.
In my groups and workshops, people who were initially skeptical enthused about the quality of the connection possible in an audio-only space.
In the nights of our ancient past, the only light came from the moon, the stars, and the crackling fire. Our ears were honed to an unimaginable finesse, listening in the black expanse for sounds of danger. We found our loved ones with our voices, just as in the first months of life we heard our mother’s voice long before our eyes could see.
Carl Jung said, “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”
In order to make the darkness conscious, we must be willing to experience it, to get scared by it, and still go forward. This is much easier if we’re not trudging through it alone.