Psychotherapy is widely seen as being a bit backward.

Psychoanalysis (one of many forms of psychotherapy) is often seen as the most backward of the lot; anachronistic, old fashioned, unscientific: a dinosaur. You might be surprised to know that when “the talking cure” first emerged at the end of the 19th century, it was actually quite revolutionary and subversive. It was so thoroughly modern, it ultimately defined the modern age!

Psychoanalysis, as always, is a paradox. While I agree that in many ways it has not caught up with the times, in times like these, psychoanalysis is a good antidote. It takes its time, it is thoughtful, and it engages with what it really means to be human despite existing in a time of quick fixes, miracle cures, and short attention spans; I’ve heard it compared to the “slow food movement”. One questions, however, whether it can carry on “business as usual” in our “2.0” world of digital relating.

I believe that psychoanalysis and psychotherapy in general can, but in order to do so they do need to recognise, accept and understand the technologies in which we are all saturated. With the importance of the human relationship so precious to psychotherapists, this can be a difficult transition. Our traditions are fundamentally based in real time human-to-human interaction.

When I look at my own career choices (a psychotherapist and an academic in psychoanalysis) I am sometimes shocked at how traditional my choices have been. While I don’t really consider myself a traditional guy, I do seem to have chosen some pretty traditional niches: psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and the academy. However, I’m not prepared to be defined by these labels, and nor should psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, nor the academy!

Universities are already bursting through the “traditional” accusation (and have been for years now) by coming up with all sorts of new and exciting ways to increase learning and open access to education. While Itunes University  is a great example of this in its  simple use of the educational podcast, individual universities like Stanford and MIT are at the vanguard of new education methods. This month’s Wired magazine has a great and inspiring article about these developments.

Can psychotherapy do the same thing?

Because of the nature of psychotherapy (and psychotherapists), it is necessary to be thoughtful about how we engage with this world. Dr. Keely Kolmes, for one, has a great resource for this kind of thinking, and has produced her own course in Digital and Social Media Ethics for Psychotherapists. Her work has influenced my own social networking policy. Here in the UK, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy have produced their own guidelines for Online Counselling. Still, mental health professionals need to be thinking even bigger than this.

This has been an area of interest to me for some time, and is the area in which I have been doing my own research. I have a forthcoming article in Psychoanalysis Culture, and Society entitled “TMI in the transference, LOL” which explores an instance of the loss of therapist anonymity in order to open up thinking, in general, about what it means to discover and be discovered on Google (whether you’re in therapy or not).

My interest also extends to social networking, and I am currently writing a book on that entitled: The Psychodynamics of Social Networking. In fact, if you were interested in helping me out with a pilot research project, have a look at my ethics page, and if you are comfortable with that, “like” the Facebook page and join the conversation. I “like” the idea of conducting research in this area within the very medium that I am curious about.

I strongly believe that Web 2.0 is having a massive influence on the way in which we all relate to each other, whether we were raised souped up in digital culture “Digital Natives” or whether you came into it later “Digital Immigrants” (Palfrey and Gasser 2008). I am coming to conclude that quite contrary to the charge that psychotherapy is a traditional “has-been” in the digital age, it can come to be at the vanguard of understanding its meaning as well as utilising new technologies to the advantage of those seeking more positive mental health.

The first thing that comes to many people’s mind when they think of technology and psychotherapy is the use of computer based cognitive behavioural treatment (e.g. http://www.llttf.com/). The advent these treatments have been of great concern to many psychotherapists because they necessarily lack the “human” touch of the therapeutic endeavour. This human touch is not only the reason why most therapists got into the job in the first place, but also, as most research shows (e.g. Norcross 2002) it has a lot to do with the curative factor of psychotherapy in any case.

There is no reason why computer based CBT can’t be one factor in a whole range of ways in which psychotherapists can make use of New Media. There are a whole raft of uses that can be deployed therapeutically over the internet: whether it is through the medium of Skype for counselling or supervision, or the creation of as yet unthought of ways to engage with people’s minds through this exciting medium that seems to develop into something new every day.

However, where psychotherapy really has something to offer is not just working out new ways to deploy mental health interventions over New Media, but to help us to understand the nature of the media itself, and thereby come to understand our society and ourselves and  even better.

It is commonly known that Sigmund Freud completed his first major work of Psychoanalysis The Interpretation of Dreams in 1899. However, he delayed publication until 1900 so the book would come at the start of the 20th century. We are now well into the 21st, and psychotherapy has not yet made a leap of similar proportions. What is next for us?

Freud certainly wouldn’t have tweeted, but you may been interested to find that both the Institute of Psychoanalysis AND the Freud Museum London BOTH have Twitter accounts (@freudmuslondon and @psych0analysis if you’re interested), so they have indeed, caught up with the times. Freud couldn’t even drag himself to “the pictures” such was his derisory sense of that “new media” – so it’s nice to see his inheritors are a bit keener on the “next big thing”.

References:

Norcross, J. (2002). Psychotherapy Relationships that Work: Therapists Contributions and Responsiveness to Patients. New York: Oxford University Press.

Palfrey, J. And Gasser U.  (2008).  Born Digital; understanding the first generation of digital natives.  New York: Basic Books.

Image Credit: http://www.ironmaidencommentary.com/?url=album11_vxi/cyberaddiction&link=albums&lang=eng