Written By Anna Mortimer, Therapist, Journalist and Co-founder of the Mind Field
Greater understanding of your unconscious motivations can only be a good thing. There are simply no downsides to knowing yourself better even if that seems self-indulgent. So perhaps instead of asking why have therapy, the question should be instead “why not have therapy?” The worst thing that can happen is that you might understand yourself (and thereby everyone else) a bit better.
I grew up surrounded by macho war correspondents; people who lived on the edge of human experience and were chronically addicted to the adrenaline of the extreme and usually to alcohol and promiscuity too. My father, always glamourized in life and further glamourized in early death, was known for getting the story, championing the oppressed, and risking his life for the truth. But he was also troubled, anxious, depressed, insomniac, alcoholic, desperately lonely, and unable to maintain any relationships. Jobs that involve a constant state of crisis are often chosen by people with pre-existing mental health issues. We try to make the world around us match our mental state, so anxious people perceive danger everywhere, depressed people see the sadness in everything and those whose minds are war zones feel truly comfortable only in a war zone. But whatever problems the intrepid may or may not start off with, these are often exacerbated by the relentless stress and frequent trauma of the work.
The very people who would most benefit from therapy and making their unconscious motivations conscious (their repetitive mistakes, victimhood or victorhood, addictions, depression, disillusionment and anxieties) are often the people least likely to seek therapy. Development workers and volunteers, doctors and journalists, who rush to the front line of conflicts and natural disasters, are the type of people who pride themselves on helping others, being strong enough to look after themselves and not having time to get help. But the front line of anything is a place where injury, perhaps particularly psychological injury, is most likely to happen. Once you have the courage to recognize that there’s a problem, video therapy makes that first contact with a therapist just a little bit easier.
The point of therapy (at least partly) is to develop a real dependence on another, to learn to trust someone and think with them, to be collaborative and allow yourself to need the other person. The trouble is, not everyone can get to a consulting room once a week in the same city in the same country for an extended period of time. So, then what? Well, video therapy. If you’ve got Wi-Fi you can do it anywhere, anytime.
Video therapy has several positive advantages. Some people find the hurdle of setting off to see a therapist, sitting in a waiting room and perhaps being observed doing so just too much to bear. Meeting in private, on video, can be a more comfortable space in which to expose painful thoughts and feelings. I have a patient who sees me from bed with a cup of tea, surrounded by cuddly toys. Not only does she feel more at ease than she would in a consulting room, but I get more insight too into how she gets comfortable, what props she needs, and where she takes refuge.
I used to worry about the intrusion into the patient’s private space. Sometimes people see me from a quiet room at work and then have to go straight to a meeting, often in a very vulnerable state. It’s hard. Then I’ve thought that seeing me at home might mean that they feel watched even in private, but this seems not to be the case. I said to a patient the other day: “You’re experiencing me as quite judgmental today, and I’m right there intruding into your living room.” He said he felt the screen was a neutral space, somewhere between our two homes where we met on neutral territory – this idea of a space belonging only to the session, to neither and both of us, is interesting. It seems video therapy here achieves what face to face therapy may fail to achieve. But most importantly, video therapy gives you a chance to access help at any time, any place in the world, so you never have to struggle alone again.