Summer/Fall 2020 Issue 1
We are living through unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our worlds upside down, and there is so much grieving to do. NSGPeople asked our members if this time has brought forward any unexpected silver linings, either in their professional or personal lives.
Practice Boss, my web design and consulting business for therapists, is booming! I help therapists clarify what their ideal private practice looks like and then craft their online presence to get more of the clients they love working with. I couldn't be happier because I get to use all my skills -- therapy, visual design, and copywriting -- all rolled into one fun job.
William has been promoted to the status of Associate Teaching professor at Northeastern University.
Jeff had an article published in the summer issue of GROUP. The article, entitled, "Can I Borrow Your Phenomenology?: How Groups Help People Grow" describes how to work from a contemporary phenomenological perspective in interpersonal process groups through the use of a case example.
It certainly is an odd time to drink a glass of champagne – but I actually went out and bought a tiny bottle of bubbly (which the wine store had to put in my trunk for contactless purchase, of course) to celebrate the acceptance of my new (fourth) book of poetry, At The Edge Of The Cliff. These experimental works had been completed before the Virus turned us into teletherapists, but the process of submission was extremely complex, because a large proportion of the poems were all or partly visual in form, and required tech expertise that I needed to develop. Fortunately I was able to learn most of it and become almost independent in constructing the results I wanted, but still --- there were areas in which I got stymied and, fortunately, was able to draw on (pun intended) the (distanced) help of my faithful computer teacher who has rescued me since about 1980, and my high-school senior grandson whose specialty is in computer graphics for the final version. Both were available (silver lining) due to the shutdown of their schools. And so, the manuscript was sent electronically to Plain View Press, and a few weeks later, it was champagne time! My friends celebrated with me from their abodes,and my husband from our kitchen table. Hoping, as do we all, for a future of vaccines, we look forward to the launch in the first weeks of 2021.
Separately, just a note of gratitude for what can only be called good luck: I attended the AGPA in New York at the beginning of March, just when the Covid was beginning to bloom its deadly leaves. One of the members of my small group was not well – a bad cold, they thought – but from AGPA I know that someone in the group did become infected, although the person’s name was not revealed. At any rate, there I was, riding the elevator in that huge hotel, also going out to restaurants with friends, riding home on a crowded Amtrak. Lucky lucky lucky. I had no idea how lucky at the time, but I sure am grateful now.
Some clients do much better in therapy -- deeper, more thoughtful work -- via video.
My son's college has been dysfunctional for years in scheduling the classes he needs to finish his BS in Business. He has been a working professional in NYC while trying for years to get those last 3 courses done. The school cancels courses without notice on the day class is to begin, it registers him for other things without his knowing, etc. A cash cow racket. Thanks to the tragic COVID crisis, ALL classes are now available online, and he can take 2 courses in July and 1 course in August and FINALLY finish his BS degree! This is huge for our family. We are all wilting with relief!! On to grad school!
A Glimpse of Silver in a Graying World
We are all aware of the limitations of doing group therapy on line — interruptions when a group member (or perhaps a leader) temporarily disappears from the screen, pets and children whining in the next room, and perhaps most of all, lack of the usual cues we have come to count on in terms of body language, replaced by a collage of often expressionless faces.
These all pose challenges which, for many of us, make doing group therapy on Zoom more tiring, as our brains search for cues that are no longer available and try to compensate for what is missing.
But along with that, I have found that there are some unique benefits and opportunities with on-line groups. No one has to drive or find a place to park. Attendance is nearly 100%. Group members arrive on time. Members (as well as the leader) can attend even when “coming down with something” that they don’t want to pass on to other people. All group members’ faces are fully in view. And for my older clients, who never thought they could get on board with this kind of technology, they have found that they are suddenly in the 21st-century along with their kids and grandkids.
But for me, what is most important has been the discovery of an opportunity to mine data available only in this context — for members, literally and figuratively, to come to see themselves more fully. Members can see if what they are feeling matches what their faces show. They have an opportunity to see what others see, to explore their feelings about how they feel about what others see and to deal with conflict about seeing themselves through their own eyes and through the eyes of others.
Though some of my group members were initially blocking their pictures on their own screens “so as not to be distracted by them,” I have strongly encouraged them to take advantage of the unique data that is available that provides a new way of looking at oneself. The discussion about doing this, and resistance by several members, has provided a wealth of information. A few group members have disclosed that they never like seeing themselves in photos or films, their intense dislike of “unattractive, ugly” aspects of their faces highlighting underlying critical self-appraisals. Another member, who was repeatedly told by her mother that she was unempathic found, to her surprise, that her face showed what she thought was appropriate empathy. She was also surprised to see that at times when she was sad that she had a wide smile on her face (which group members had pointed out, but now she could see this for herself in the on-line group).
All in all, while I will be glad when I can do my groups again in person, I appreciate the opportunity that my group members (and I) now have for gathering some new kinds of data during an era when new data is, otherwise, entering our lives less and less.
Finally, with regard to limited data, I think more generally of the limits on interpersonal data and stimulation that COVID has imposed on us. While a hardship in so many ways, here too, I have experienced some glimpses of silver. In life before COVID (LBC), I rushed from one thing to the next. Always on the verge of being late, I‘d honk at my neighbor and wave as I drove by, too rushed to actually talk. But now, as I stroll around my quiet neighborhood between patients, I am hungry for a shared word with someone who I can see in other than portrait view. I yell to my neighbor from across the street to ask how her new pup is doing; I wave to strangers and call out “Good to see you out on such a great day!” I realize how much human contact means to me. After recently experiencing the unpleasant crush of people in Times Square, where people were obstacles that needed to be dealt with, I now am so glad to see a real live person, and to get to interact even briefly. Like my dog, I think, “Oh goodie, a person? A chance to have a happy hello!”
Since going virtual I have never had such great group attendance. In the young adult group, students can still attend during vacations and even after graduation.
As an observer in the observation group at the Brookline Center, I can see each member’s face and close up if I change the screen view. This improves the learning experience for me.
I can participate in many more learnings (with therefore greater choice), since eliminating the travel and parking time. I have noticed an increase in the space available to me.