Seeing a Couple Therapist on the Screen
Psychotherapy is often shrouded in mystery and myth with cinematic depictions often sugges
ting that the experience is likely to have either dramatic or outright comical undertones. With Sigmund Freud often being credited as the father of psychotherapy, it is not unexpected that the mere mention of the word conjures up images of a drab Victorian era and an over-preoccupation with sexuality. With this backdrop, it is hardly surprising that relationship therapy and the computer screen may be perceived to be rather poorly matched bedfellows to start with, but the combination might yet prove to be a match made in heaven!
My interest in online couple therapy and Tavistock Relationships’ venture into cyber-space started a couple of years back as part of the Institute's commitment to make its 70 years of experience in this field more widely accessible. We know that couple therapy works and recent research has shown how effective the Tavistock approach is in helping couples come to experience greater happiness and relationship satisfaction (in technical terms, a reduction in ‘couple distress’), as well as ensuring that partners’ experience of life is more enjoyable (that is, their psychological well-being is improved). If you are technically inclined or simply curious, I suggest you review our recently published study here which shows couple therapy really does work.
Why does seeing a couple therapist on a screen work?
Instinctively we know that when we are distressed or wish to disclose something close to our hearts, we want to be reassured that we are being listened to attentively. Significantly, in their feedback, most of our online counselling clients report that they have a strong sense that their therapists understand them. While our online staff have all received specialist training on working in this way, they all bring many years of clinical experience too and a sound understanding of how crucial establishing a good therapeutic relationship really is. Our experience suggests that the therapist on the screen comes to life with a depth that challenges the dimensionality of the flat screen. As the therapist introduces themselves, sets the stage (or screen composition) to ensure that all participants are clearly in view, the importance of attending to one another is brought to centre stage. The message becomes clear. This is not simply about narrating a story or recounting the latest offence received. The therapist is interested in the details of the couple’s experience and endeavours to understand their particular take on the events that cause them to be distressed. The couple on the screen becomes very much alive to their therapist in the same way the therapist comes alive to the clients. The exchange facilitates new understanding and allows the therapist and the couple to explore potential avenues for creative change.
Does it surprise us that webcam based therapy can link therapist and client-couples in such a lively way?
Perhaps it does but really it should not! As I watched and heard Barry Gibb sing Stayin’ Alive at Glastonbury a few weeks ago I was surrounded by thousands of enthused fans in a muddy field on a bright sunny day but I had this experience from the comfort of my own home. Gibb provided me with an emotional experience with much meaning because of the music offered and how it resonated with my life story. The screen offers us a powerful experience that we would be naive to dismiss. Coupled with an experienced, well-trained couple psychotherapist, attending to our needs the outcome might well prove to be life changing, even if it all happens in the comfort of one’s own home. If our heart and mind can be engaged then meaningful experiences can be had and the ‘magic’ of therapy might well happen.
I wrote this blog in 2016 about my experience helping couple via online couple therapy using Skype and Zoom. It was first posted on the Tavistock Relationships website.