Starting Therapy Remotely| by Linda Sherby, Ph. D, ABPP

07/01/2020 8:21 PM | Anonymous

The problem many therapists face as the pandemic continues to rage and patients seek relief from their anxiety, depression and isolation.


Hello,” I say to an attractive, dark-haired woman who appears before me on FaceTime. “I’m glad to meet you.” And so begins my first experience beginning therapy remotely.

I practice in Florida, one of the states that is seeing a sharp uptick in Covid-19. Although I have toyed with the idea of returning to in-office sessions, I continue to find myself reluctant to do so. During the initial phase of the pandemic, I turned away new referrals, uncomfortable starting treatment with anyone I could not meet at least once in person. But as my time away from the office continues, I decide I need to go beyond my comfort zone.

“Hi,” Jennifer replies. “This already feels weird. I’ve been in a lot of therapy, but obviously in person. I kept thinking I’d wait until I could go to your office, but who knows when that will be, and I’m having a really hard time.”

“It feels strange to me too,” I say, “But why don’t you tell me how I can help you.”

I watch her take a deep breath. “I’m 49, I’m alone, I’m terrified of the virus and I just found out that my ex-husband has lung cancer. And that he hasn’t told our daughter yet. I’m so anxious I can’t stand myself.”

“That is a lot.”

“I’ve always been afraid of being alone and now I’m alone all the time. I mean, I talk to my daughter, but she’s in New York and she’s had a really hard time so I don’t want to lay all my stuff on her. And I worry about how she’ll respond to the news about Greg, that’s my ex.”

“Lots of people have been struggling with their aloneness during the pandemic, can you talk about what it’s like for you.”

“I’ve always hated being alone, ever since I was a little girl. I was the kid who was afraid of monsters under the bed, always had to have a light on, and would run into my parent’s room in the middle of the night. That’s why it took me so long to leave Greg, even though I knew about his affairs for years. And when he moved out I put way too much pressure on my daughter to be my companion, just as my Mom did to me. I mean, my parents stayed married, but they had a lousy relationship and I was my mother’s confidant. My Mom’s still alive. She remarried after my father died and she’s much happier now. We’re close, but not like it was when I was a kid.”

“Are you saying you miss your childhood relationship with your Mom or that you’re relieved?”

“I don’t know. Maybe both. When I’m happy, I’m relieved. But now that I’m so anxious, I guess I want my Mommy. I know that sounds silly.”

“Not at all. I totally understand.”

“I did tell my Mom about Greg, but she didn’t get it at all, thought I’d be happy that something really bad happened to him.”

“And is a part of you happy?”

“Oh no! I mean he certainly wasn’t a good husband but I could never be glad he got cancer.”

“So you’d feel guilty if you felt glad?”

“Definitely. I was brought up to be the good girl and the good girl I remain.”

“Can I ask you how this is feeling to you right now?”

“I guess it still feels weird. And I’m still anxious. I’m used to having my anxiety get better when I’m in

a therapist’s office. But I guess I’m not in your office. It’s like you’re here and not here. It’s similar to how I feel talking to my New York friends on the phone. They don’t feel really present to me so I’ve pretty much let most of those relationships kind of peter out.”

“Oh oh,” I say. “Does that mean you’re likely to do the same thing with us?”

She shrugs. “I don’t know.”

“Maybe you yearn for relationships that duplicate the early connection you felt with your mother, perhaps that’s the connection that reduces your anxiety, makes you feel safe, and that without that kind of connection you feel afraid.”

“I guess that’s true. But I thought I wanted to get away from my mother.”

“I suspect that a part of you does want to get away, but the scared little girl part of you still yearns for what you experience as safe.”

“I suppose.”

“I feel as though you’re less engaged with me right now.”

“Yeah. It’s not you. I just don’t know if this is going to work.”

“I suppose the question is whether you’re willing to give it a chance. We’ve actually talked about quite a bit today: anxiety, guilt, your need to be a good girl and, I suspect, although we haven’t talked about it, your difficulty allowing yourself to feel angry.”

Jennifer brightens. “That’s right! I feel really bad when I get angry.” Pause. “But right this minute I feel a little less anxious.”

“Maybe it helped that I figured something out about you, and that made you feel more connected, less alone.”

“Could be.”

“I can’t guarantee I’ll do that every session, but if you’re willing to give this a try, maybe our work together could be helpful, despite not being in person.”



© 2020 | The Southeast Florida Association for Psychoanalytic Psychology (SEFAPP)

Phone/Fax: (954) 637-3883 |  Email: office@sefapp.org   | Administrative Office:  10803 S. Plaza Del Oro, Yuma, AZ 85367

| Contact Us |

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software