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Jan 27, 2022

When you think of therapy in a traditional sense, what comes to mind? Television shows, movies, and comics love to paint a stereotypical scene: a bespectacled therapist asks poignant questions and jots down notes on a legal pad; meanwhile, the patient reclines on a sofa and spills their thoughts and emotions into the void of the room. It might be easy to assume that therapy has always involved a person-to-person conversation, but in her new book The Distance Cure, scholar and author Hannah Zeavin invited us to consider definitions of psychotherapy that extend far beyond people talking in a room.

In The Distance Cure, Zeavin described less conventional operations of therapy that include Freud’s treatments by mail, advice columns, radio shows, crisis hotlines, video, computers, and mobile phones. Across all formats, “therapists” vary widely in background and credentials; some may be professionally trained, while others are strangers or even chatbots. Is any method better than the other? Zeavin urged us to think beyond the traditional dyad of therapist and patient and consider the triad of therapist, patient, and communication technology. By tracing the history of teletherapy right up to its now-routine application in pandemic therapy sessions, Zeavin reminded us that as our world changes and advances in communication technology continue to expand, so will our definitions of what it means to connect.

In a virtual presentation, Psychologist Margaret Morris interviewed Hannah Zeavin about her new book and the intimacy that is possible in remote communication. They are joined by Dr. Orna Guralnik, a clinical psychologist featured on Showtime’s Couples Therapy, who shared insights about therapy and connection during the pandemic.

Hannah Zeavin is a Lecturer in the Departments of English and History at the University of California, Berkeley, and is affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley, Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society. She is a Visiting Fellow at Columbia University’s Center for Social Difference and Editorial Associate at The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Imagodifferences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, the Los Angeles Review of BooksReal Life MagazineSlate, and elsewhere.

Dr. Margaret Morris is a clinical psychologist focused on how technology can support wellbeing. She is an affiliate faculty member in the Information School at the University of Washington, as well as a research consultant. Morris is the author of Left to Our Own Devices: Outsmarting Smart Technology to Reclaim Our Relationships, Health and Focus.

Dr. Orna Guralnik is a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst practicing and teaching in New York City. Currently Dr. Guralnik lectures and publishes on the topics of couples treatment and culture, dissociation and depersonalization, and culture and psychoanalysis. She has completed the filming of several seasons of the Showtime documentary series, Couples Therapy.

Buy the Book: The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy (Hardcover) from Elliott Bay Books

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