We Are Living in a Screenworld -- Reality Isn't in the Real World Anymore
Continued from previous page
Knowing another person is the key to therapy and the exact opposite of Screenworld, where you can't be certain even of the sex of those with whom you chat.In the first decades of psychotherapy, people considered therapists mysterious, obscure, and even comical, precisely because they were doing something professionally that nobody else was doing—which made psychotherapy, by definition, a revolutionary endeavor, a revolution in self-awareness. It was such a revolutionary project that it had to invent its own language.
Now the language of psychotherapy has been assimilated into the culture and made commonplace, impositions of commerce have intruded upon and in many cases limited the practice, and "the talking cure" has become a quaint phrase for a now seemingly old-fashioned worldview. Yet if psychotherapy still saw itself as a movement (as it once did), and if that movement were starting now instead of a century ago, in the context of Screenworld, it would be nothing less than revolutionary, because of its quiet, its intimacy, its demand for face-to-face frankness, its worldview, and its purpose—not information, but meaning; not entertainment, but understanding; not passivity, but engagement.
It would be nothing less than revolutionary because it's everything that Screenworld isn't; and because the consulting room, by its nature, is one of the few places where the values of Screenworld are seriously questioned and alternatives seriously investigated, not in any abstract sense, but for your particular life.
Is it too much to say that if psychotherapy were a movement starting today, pitting its face-to-face ways and values against an omnipresent and ultimately impersonal Screenworld, the project of psychotherapy might be seen as heroic? To See and Be Seen
So I enter the Anti-Screenworld of the consulting room. I really want a cigarette, but that isn't allowed anymore—which is a pain in the ass and knocks away my favorite crutch and most practiced pose. (Ah, for the olden, golden days, when my therapists smoked!)
My therapist asks a question as my cell phone rings.
"Turn that off," my therapist says gently—or not so gently, as the case may be.
There goes my connection (or what I feel is my connection) to the entire world, my lifeline to Screenworld. Now it's just me and this damned therapist—the two of us, plus the reasons I'm there in first place.
(There's no way to test this, but I'd bet a week's pay that the first thing most clients do when leaving the consulting room is turn on their cells. Calling it a "cell" indicates how our attachment to Screenworld has made it a kind of body-part.)
Now there's nothing left to do but face this therapist, and there's nothing this therapist can do but face me—which is to say, there's nothing more ancient than the situation we find ourselves in. As Socrates said to Alcibiades, "For the soul, if it's to know itself, it's into a soul that it must look."
So we look. We talk. We endure mutual, unquantifiable silences. We talk some more. Eventually, something comes of that—each "something" being entirely different, shaped by my unique nature and this therapist's. The "something" we achieve is a result beyond the powers of Screenworld to display.There are no faces I recall more vividly than my therapists', because their faces were the most prominent—indeed, dominant—features of the consulting room. Dr. L, who could double for Sebastian Cabot (that's a reference for old-timers like me). Dr. T, always so slyly amused, even when I threatened suicide, who said, "All I'm trying to tell you is that up is down, black is white, and tomorrow everything changes." Gray-eyed Dr. K, so disarmingly old, who wasn't as smart as me (so I thought), yet usually knew where I was going before I got there. And M—not "Doctor" anymore; we're now in the era of first names—who was plump, pillowy, yes, sexy (in a demure, therapeutic way); to be frank, my sense of her sexiness helped me stay present, even when I didn't want to. And N, how everything she said was said with a laugh, either expressed or implied, always making a problem manageable in that, by her lights, it was always at least slightly comic. And the furniture of the consulting room, how it looms, has to be dealt with and worked around! Dr. L, behind his imposing, dark-wood desk, and me, a teenager, not quite knowing how to sit in that big, plush, real-leather chair. Dr. T, behind a less formal desk; he liked his office dark and shadowy, small and spare, large, clear-glass ashtrays always to hand, the room filling up with our smoke, which seemed the smoke of us burning through my past. Dr. K, who didn't have a desk, his chair facing mine in a small and bright—though not uncomfortably bright—space. In M's consulting room, I sat on a sofa. I don't like to sit on sofas; I like hard chairs. Her sofa was something to deal with. N's pleasantly dim room was cluttered with interesting objects and oddly titled books by authors I'd never heard of.