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Book of the month – April 2021

Book of the month – April 2021

The clinical staff at WPF Therapy who were able to attend, had the pleasure of attending a workshop facilitated by Gillian Isaacs Russell and Todd Essig about working online with clients. The workshop was both informative and timely and included discussion about how to work effectively online, post-pandemic.  Much of the workshop content was informed by Gillian’s book Screen Relations: The Limits of Computer-Mediated Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy (Technology and Mental Health) Routledge.

Gillian Isaacs Russell is a UK-trained psychotherapist and psychoanalyst. She is a member of the British Psychoanalytic Council, the British Psychotherapy Foundation, the American Psychoanalytic Association, the International Psychoanalytical Association and has been in private practice since 1988. She has been on the Editorial Board, Book Review Editor, and presently on the Reviewing Panel of the British Journal of Psychotherapy.

She became interested in computer-mediated treatment when moved she from the UK to a remote part of the USA in 2008 and continued to supervise clinicians in the UK by video-conferencing. Subsequently she joined the faculty of the China American Psychoanalytic Alliance, and taught, supervised, and treated Chinese mental health professionals doing a distance psychoanalytic psychotherapy training via computer-mediation. Dr. Isaacs Russell was intrigued, puzzled, and concerned by the differences she perceived between technologically-mediated treatment and her experience of being bodies together in a shared environment. She began research, drawing on her wide experience providing and supervising screen relations based treatments and her extensive ethnographic study of psychoanalytic clinicians and their patients to ask crucial questions lurking on the digital frontier: Can an effective therapeutic process occur without physical co-presence? What happens to screen-bound treatment when, as a patient said, there is no potential to “kiss or kick?” How is intimacy affected by radically altering the balance between implicit non-verbal communications and the explicit verbal?

These questions are particularly urgent in the 21st century when Psychoanalysis faces a profound irony. Increasing mobility, the emergence of modern economies and fast-paced lives are accelerating demand for “screen relations” based treatment. In response, many psychoanalysts are embracing technologically-mediated treatment. Many now make a claim of functional equivalence between mediated and co-present treatments. However, this comes at a time when authorities on how technology shapes relationships are voicing serious concerns about the damage technological mediation does to both intimate connection and reflective solitude. It is time for a deeper psychoanalytic exploration of what actually does and does not happen in technologically-mediated treatment, so as to better weigh the gains and losses of screen relations.

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