Hanging Up and Tuning In

Thanks to social media and everyone having a camera on their phone, we are always aware and in touch with everything that happens. Facebook pages are helping change policy and elect government officials, Twitter helped unite a country in revolution, and Pinterest is helping parents everywhere share their secrets behind themed birthday parties.

We are so much more connected to others – or are we?

My partner and I walked into this fantastic little Asian inspired steakhouse last week for date night. Although we have been together for quite some time, I find it important to take time for just the two of us – to reconnect. The lighting was dim, giving off a cozy, intimate feeling, and the warmth of the dark wood floors were inviting me to take off my shoes and stay awhile.
As we wound our way through a grouping of tables, I noticed, up ahead, a group of young professionals chatting loudly and lounging way beyond the personal space of their table. Silently I prayed not to be sat next to them. Yet, the hostess smiled with apology, and pulled out the seat for my partner at the table right next to the group. Seriously…!?

Once seated, I panned the room and overheard one group in a heated argument about soccer, a group of four middle aged women in an animated exchange (clearly all very good friends), and many other tables involved in quiet conversation. As karma would have it, we were blessed to be sitting next to the only table whose conversation was limited to three people talking loudly into their phones. I was momentarily impressed by the guy lounging on my right (had he moved about 8 inches, he would have been sitting on my lap), who whipped out a second cellphone – texted with his left hand all while talking into the phone in his right hand. The group wrapped up and left in perfect synchrony, even though no words were exchanged between them, and thankfully left the restaurant before our main course was served.

We went on to have a wonderful evening, but the interchange of this group left me with two thoughts:

  • I’m becoming an old fart who doesn’t appreciate the intrusion of technology on date night
  • some folks have serious issues disconnecting from technology and being present in the moment.

When I was working with college students, I insisted they silence, mute, or turn off their pagers and phones (yes, I’ve been in the biz for that long). I would usually get the grumble, followed by “the look”, and then finally they would give in. We could then get down to business and use the hour to work.

Now, I have clients who pull out their phones and put them on the couch next to their leg. This of course gives me material for the session, but why would this technology be so intrusive? We know mindfulness is extremely beneficial in life and necessary if we are using DBT. Ultimately the ability to tune in and focus on one thing in the moment is a requirement for many therapeutic techniques to be effective. You can’t be mindful and in the moment when you allow technology to be a distraction.

So when is technology not a distraction, but a tool in therapy? A year or so ago I had a client pull out her phone and set in on the couch next to her (yes, we had addressed this in prior sessions), and said, “I’m waiting on a really urgent call. It’s an emergency situation, so when my friend calls I’ll need to take it.”

This certainly could have led into an interesting conversation about what was happening for my client, but only a moment later her friend called. I found myself struggling to keep the astonishment off my face, as she discussed dinner plans for that evening. Had I not witnessed that exchange, I would have never truly understood my client’s perspective on what constitutes “urgent” and “emergency”. This gave me a good glimpse into a life I had suspected was wrought with self-perpetuating drama, but up to that point my “intuition” had remained unfounded. As my consultant has reminded me, I only really have control of the therapeutic container. So after many years of the ban on technology, I’m rethinking my perspective.

What are your policies on cellphones in session? How do you address a client taking a call, typing a text or email, and or generally using technology to distract from the session?
Lauren Somers holds a LPCC in the State of California, a Doctorate in Counseling Psychology, certification in EFT (energy psychology), and over 19 years of experience in delivering counseling to adolescents and adults in individual and group settings. She hosts a private practice in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area where she endeavors to understand her client’s story and weaves the traditional therapeutic modalities with a bit of shamanic healing, energy psychology, and mindfulness to bring about growth and healing.

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