The 4-5-15 edition of the New York Times has a commentary by a psychoanalyst about the impact of browser searches on therapy. T he article, “Do You Google Your Shrink?”, is part of a regular NYT Sunday edition feature, “Couch,” which is described as featuring “essays by psychotherapists, patients and others about the experience of therapy- psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, marriage therapy, hypnotherapy or any other kind of curative talk between people behind closed doors.”
It is amazing to me that there is enough interest in therapy for the NYT to feature a weekly column about it. It also amazing to me how many of the articles are written by analysts or are about psychoanalysis.
“Do You Google Your Shrink?” has some interesting points about the impact of browser searching on therapy – primarily on the therapist, but also on the patient. The author describes her own experiences with being Googled, and also the experiences of other therapists. She notes that when patients are able to obtain information, sometimes with a lot of detail, about the therapist’s private life, can result in “the relative anonymity of therapists, and all the mystery, power and privacy that attend it, …being swept away.” She goes on to discuss how patients’ access to information about their therapist’s private life can have “a chilling effect” on the therapist’s activities outside of their office. Patients may be able to easily learn about articles that we write, our professional presentations, professional causes that we weight in on, etc. In addition, she notes that patients can also learn about their therapists, hobbies and other non-professional activities. She cites as an example a therapist who enjoyed singing in a choral group, participated in a gay music festival, his patient did a browser search on the therapist and got a hit on this, and the patient came to the next appointment with questions and anxieties about the therapist’s sexuality.
The author also points out that therapists can do browser searches on their patients, such as researching whether they have a criminal history or learning about their opinions and lifestyle form social network postings. She notes, “The experience of evaluating a patient with fresh eyes and no prior assumptions may, for better or worse, disappear.”
She ends with some positive thoughts about our brave new digital world. She thinks that it can be beneficial for patients to be able to have access to personal information about their therapist “as an antidote to the fusty, authoritarian (psychoanalytic?) therapist of the past.” And, when the therapist is able to see the patient, such as by fielding a call on their cell phone, this can “insert into the often hermetic world of the consulting room a tonic dose of reality, an experience of how the patient actually functions outside of the office.”
Finally, the author points out- savors, really – how digital technology can actually highly the personal and intimate nature of therapy; “in some ways therapy is, more than ever, the ultimate luxury; To be the focus of a thoughtful person who is listening, caring and helping to make sense of life’s chaos is something that the Internet can never provide.”