The age of technology is amazing. From when I first started as a psychotherapist, it is a different world as regards information and communication. I am definitely a fan of technology. However, as it is used in certain situations, it has a significant downside.
The internet offers a wealth of information on all sorts of issues related to mental health. It gives people a better understanding of psychological problems from theoretical points of view. You can also find tons of ‘how to’ literature on techniques to approach symptoms, solve and resolve problems.
But from my perspective there can be major problems with people jumping to conclusions from this information. Like with medicine, they read and think they know what’s wrong. They self-diagnose and may put off seeing someone until things have gotten much worse.
One of the most alarming outcomes of technology (in my opinion) is the use of social media – texting, tweeting & email etc., as a major means of interpersonal communication. That is not to say that these communication methods don’t have their place. For factual information such as when & where, it is great. But many use this instead of face to face interaction for more complex communication.
When you talk via text or email, there is no ability to get a ‘read’ on the other person. There is no access to the nuances of body language such as eye contact or emotions that enhance communication in so many ways when you are face to face. For some this is helpful. Many feel they can communicate better via the written word. But mostly this leaves way too much room for miscommunication and misunderstanding. It also prevents the experience of re-framing in the moment. The internet doesn’t listen and is not a substitute for live interaction.
For very isolated people it can offer a means of contact and communication that they would otherwise not have. I do not downplay the benefit for those who have difficulty communicating in interactive situations. But it also can reinforce this avoidance. People can manage their communications like they were writing a term paper.
Communication via the internet is intrinsically sterile. When you think of children in institutions who have no one interacting with them physically and then compare that with parents who are always holding and playing & engaging in eye contact, the difference is monumental. In institutions, the result can be a failure for the baby to thrive.
When I see people who get together but somehow always manage to spend time on their devices, I groan. Think of a TV commercial – I think it’s for online gambling – where conversation is quickly replaced by individual game playing. This is very different from interactive games and appears to be a new cultural trend. Why is it necessary to always have the device handy? I often feel it’s a subtle means of diluting the actual experience with friend, family or significant others. Its effect is to interrupt the flow of the relationship.
In therapy, there are no devices and most turn them off unless there is an extraordinary circumstance. The communication between therapist & patient is much more immediate and that lends itself to deeper understanding. I see the person and can gain greater insight that way. We have a relationship that can’t be duplicated online. I hope that in the rest of life technology is not causing us to lose the gift of human presence.
Although the internet offers wonderful things, unfortunately it also offers new opportunities to indulge in addictions of all sorts. It can be its own addiction. It enables avoidance of the world and real life and real problems. Just as with TV it can offer a respite from the stresses of life. Great! But it’s abuse tempts us all.
The internet has dramatically changed how people find medical & mental health providers. You can look up anyone’s credentials and check out their reviews. That is amazing. However it used to be that people got personal recommendations. Now I am not sure which is actually better. But the internet as well as insurance companies have made finding a provider a much more anonymous endeavor.
Then there are the online support groups which I actually think of as pseudo-support. They are anonymous, but unlike AA and similar groups, there is no actual emotional or even physical touching. You don’t get to deal with trauma in person. You may get lots of information & helpful hints, but the methodology itself reinforces the interpersonal disconnect.
In actual therapy sessions, and even as regards the reasons people seek treatment, I can’t say I have noticed that technology has affected much of what goes on or the problems people come in with. What I have noticed is that different addictions are ‘easier’ to accommodate. Infidelity is easier to hide and more and more people are looking for a mate using internet dating sites. That has both up & down sides. In any case, the issues that confront couples and what makes relationship difficult are still the same.
I have concerns about how the younger generation is learning to relate or have relationships. Technology is an essential part of children’s lives. They see adults using devices and are growing up with them. Hopefully they are also learning to relate in a more personal way. I would hate to think we are losing something as important and valuable as human bonding which has always occurred naturally and without the interface of whatever new device comes down the pike.