Connecting threads

This week I have tried something new. A body therapy which took place online! The
practitioner called what we were trying to do ‘synchronisation’. I am sure that the fact I have
worked with the particular body therapist before was a significant factor, but the amazing
thing is, it worked! If I am to be honest, I would say that it worked even better than it had
before. I could feel areas of tightness and blockage shifting and processing, he could tune in
to what I was experiencing. The effect was profound. How are we to understand this, if we
are to avoid new age terminology and its links with spirituality (not that I am making a claim
against it here, but mainly because of a distinctly secular personal taste). Is there a way of
understanding and valuing non-verbal interpersonal connections without resorting to the old
chestnut of debating scientific knowledge versus feelings and intuition? It seems to me that
there is something about non tangible energy between people that is both palpable and more
easily accessible than we have managed to identify in ordinary language and communication
as well as in academic discourse up to now.
There has been a long debate in the psychotherapy world, and not only, about whether
online therapy could be more effective and also, have significant advantages for both parties,
such as accessing a therapist from a location with otherwise limited access, being at the
comfort of one’s own home for both parties and also, saving on renting a working space and
commuting. Yet, there is a lot that is missed out on. What stands out in my mind as missing
significantly is the experience of two embodied human beings moving in space. What are
they each wearing? What about body size, agility, style? I find it fascinating how we all
embody our complex identities in utterly unique ways. A client tells me that he is overweight
and that this has been a problem in his relationship. I am utterly puzzled, as the person I see
on the screen appears to be slim. Another client is a gymnast, able to perform acrobatics, but
on screen, she appears stationary, if not sedentary, she chain smokes cigarettes. Where has
the athlete gone? What are we to make of these contradictions and how will we ever know
how they play out in a client’s life, if we never meet them in person?

Some of the advocates for online therapy in the longer term have argued that it might
make sense to consider in certain contexts to offer online therapy exclusively. Though I can
see how this might work better in particular circumstances, the loss for me in that eventuality
would be about missing out on the multi-sensory complexity of the physical space. In the
case of therapy, the traditional locus of the encounter is the consulting room, a space with a
long history and rich in symbolism. Some of my most vivid memories from the early days of
having therapy are of the journey to and from the consulting room as well as how I placed
myself in it. The smell of the room, the fabric on the chair or the couch and of course, the
sight of the therapist and their bodily posture, something that was so uniquely them. Yet, I am
not arguing here for abolishing the lessons of the pandemic and rushing to resume in person
work as soon as it is possible. Surely, as my own recent experience testifies, there is a lot we
can learn from disembodied communication about our ability to tune in and find the
connecting threads between us even in the absence of direct bodily contact. The profound
effect that literature, cinema and the arts have on all of us are also testament to our brain’s
ability to connect to the threads in a number of different ways.
When I think of the experience of connection I had in my online ‘body therapy’ as
well as some of the powerful sessions I had with clients during the last year of working
almost exclusively online, I cannot help but wonder whether an important lesson of the
pandemic for all of us may be that our ability to connect with each other is much more
complex and multifaceted than what we may have thought before. We can all recognise the
feeling of emptiness after a night of having drinks with friends where not a single gesture of
intimacy has been exchanged, and yet, the feeling of elation and aliveness when the smile of
a stranger captures our attention at an unexpected moment. Perhaps, some of the most
profound reasons we have to be alive are about remaining open to finding these connecting
threads between us and others in all sorts of different ways. And when such a thread is newly
discovered, the excitement can linger for a while or it can open up a fresh perspective, a new
possible journey.

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