Can expats go back to normal therapy now?
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
From the third of August therapists in Buenos Aires could start working with patients face to face in their treatment rooms again. But as my patients will already know, this date came and went and we saw each other online as we've become accustomed to do over the last five months.
So why wasn't I desperate to get back to my treatment rooms? Am I afraid of the virus? Well, yes, actually I am a bit. The centre where I work is very busy and dozens of people pass through there every day. However when I think about it it's more complicated than that.
I'd like to preface my next point with the statement that I love living in Buenos Aires and I wouldn't choose anywhere else to live for myself or my family. However, working from home has removed a lot of the annoying things about living in Buenos Aires from my life. I'm no longer dependent on the, shall we say 'quirky', public transport system. I don't have to grapple with culturally different ideas as to what constitutes broken, dirty, or unacceptable when I use local services. I'm also looking forward to not having to brave the scorching heat in summertime arriving feeling sweaty and horrible desperate to get the aircon started before my first patient arrives in a similar state.
Also, and I never thought I'd say this, but I've actually really started to like online therapy, both giving and receiving. To my surprise I have intimate, interesting and productive relationships with patients that I have never met in person.
So how is this possible? Firstly I think that what we lose in a virtual setting is more than compensated for with other factors. I see my patients in their homes, drinking tea, I meet their partners, children and pets. I've had whole sessions talking about Skype background choices! And they see me as a real person, maybe they hear my loud Argentine family shouting at each other outside my office or maybe one of my dogs appears from under the sofa where they were hiding. But secondly, and more importantly, I've realized that us expats are experts at maintaining intimate relationships online. We know how to keep gestures inside the limits of the camera, we can avoid looking at our own image and maintain eye contact, we know that our facial expressions need to be exaggerated to ensure that the person on the other end can capture them correctly.
So do I miss anything? Of course. I miss being able to offer a tissue or a glass of water when a patient is sobbing uncontrollably. I miss the very occasional hugs that you're not supposed to give or receive as a therapist but that every one of us secretly treasures. I miss bumping into colleagues in the kitchen and having conversations that offer new perspectives, consolation and friendship.
However, for now the positives outweigh the negatives so until further notice I'll see you in your living room with your cat. Don't forget to put the kettle on.