Gillian Isaacs Russell

Screen Relations

The Limits of Computer-Mediated Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy

Karnac Books 2015

New Books in CommunicationsNew Books in MedicineNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in PsychoanalysisNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books in TechnologyNew Books Network October 13, 2015 Tracy Morgan

At New Books in Psychoanalysis, interviews are conducted using Skype. As the program is audio rather than video based, it never occurred to me...

At New Books in Psychoanalysis, interviews are conducted using Skype. As the program is audio rather than video based, it never occurred to me to use the camera on my computer to see on the screen the person I was speaking to. Rather, I kept my ear turned acutely towards the authors, hanging on their every word while privately perusing my list of questions. I have joked with many interviewees that for all I know they are in their pajamas or naked. Truth be told, I have had no interest in seeing the authors during the interview. There was and is something about having the experience that the listener has on hearing, rather than seeing, the interview that may play a role in creating a certain kind of intensity and intimacy. So it was not lost on me that for this particular interview with Gillian Isaacs Russell about a book that looks straightforwardly at the impact of technology on the therapeutic relationship, that we would not be making eye contact. Though we could, I requested that we not do so. And anyway, of course, if you have used it, eye contact is actually impossible on Skype. We can see each other but we cannot lock orbs.

Our interview, as you will hear, is full of the same kinds of problems that one might have when working with a patient over the ether. At one point there is a bizarre reverb and everything Isaacs Russell says comes out in triplicate. We did not lose the connection though this has happened to me on several occasions while playing my interlocutory part. And of course we both had our anxieties about the capacity of the technology to connect us and to keep us connected but do bear in mind that we are not analyst and patient. Our relationship is layered with much less meaning or significance than that of the analytic couple. If the technology disconnected us, we would not wonder if it was something that one of us said. No one would have hurt feelings. We could keep it impersonal.

In Screen Relations: The Limits of Computer-Mediated Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy (Karnac, 2015), Isaacs Russell asks a key question of psychoanalysts: what might be lost in working this way? The interview explores reasons why analysts have jumped in to use Skype and explores what the implications might be of the loss of two bodies in a room together. Her thinking is clear and the ideas she pits forth I found haunting. The age old question of what makes a treatment psychoanalysis came to mind when reading this book as I wondered if you can’t smell the patient, if there is not the risk of touch that is not acted upon, if there is not the walk out the door when the session is over, is essential grist for the mill irreparably lost?

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