Screen Time: Keeping the Score
What impact might intense online working be having on our embodied selves? sissy lykou, psychotherapist and co-editor of Trauma in the Creative and Embodied Therapies: When Words are not Enough, makes time to attend to a message her body has been sending her since March – and finds a powerful resonance between this somatic memory and her clients’ experiences of the pandemic.
I’m sitting on the floor with my back on my sofa and turning off my laptop after a day of several online sessions. It’s the 11th of December 2020 – the Corona year, as many of us call it. Following this sequence of movements, my immediate response is to massage my left shoulder and neck. This has been my most used soothing movement since March 2020, but this time I pause, and I ask myself, ‘Why are you doing this again? What is actually hurting you?’
There is an obvious body memory there for me, something that belongs to the past but is implicit in the present, something not vertically but horizontally unconscious, an . Do I dare to stay with it and trace it back, when around me the world is in such pain and chaos?
I allow myself to stand still with my eyes closed and I wait for any movement any action that might come from my shoulder. A disturbing image of an old fall I had a few years ago brings waves of panic and, not at all surprisingly, sharp pain. The memory is coming back and the connection is made: I could have lost my life then and my shoulder never recovered from that accident. I now hear from my clients about their fear of death, the literal and metaphoric losses in their lives, the fall into something that they have not experienced before, the irreparable damage they are concerned this loneliness and lack of touch will have.
And my shoulder remembers, my shoulder responds…
Since March, when we all had to switch our therapy work into online mode, I have been listening to my clients, holding their fears, moving in and out of a mutual dance of uncertainty and grief. It has been fascinating and at the same time excruciatingly painful to witness the many more memories and dreams my clients have brought to our sessions, the small movements – in order to fit in the computer screens – that have replaced their 3D presence in my consulting room, the embodied grief that demonstrates itself with frozen bodies, stiff movements. But in all that process, which much has already been written about by therapists, I seem to have neglected the messages my own body has been sending me.
How much have we all, as therapists, neglected our mind-bodies this year, our own pain and body memories? Roz Carroll recently wrote a poignant piece on the impact all the computer time has on our bodies and how the normalisation of technological dependency has, and will have, some long-term emotional effects. Thinking about how the pandemic has forced therapists to work in a way that has not been the ‘norm’, I want to take this further. I am asking myself – and you, the reader – how neglectful and unconscious I have been towards my own embodied self as a therapist?
With the second lockdown having just finished, and potentially a new one happening after the festive season, I wonder whether it is time we therapists start ‘moving’ with our aches, pains and body messages that no computer screen can mirror back to us and no training or book ever prepared us for – letting our bodies move, or even dance, without a certain aim by simply listening to what is needed. After all, this is the first pandemic the current therapy family have experienced. We need to learn from it, and through it.
Trauma in the Creative and Embodied Therapies: When Words Are Not Enough, edited by Anna Chesner and sissy lykou, is out now via Routledge.