interviews

Psychoanalysis in the Era of Cyberspace. Interview with Glen O. Gabbard

by Sabrina Di Cioccio

Question. Dr. Gabbard, after several years you came back to Rome to discuss a paper about “The privacy, the Self, and the practice of psychoanalysis in the era of Internet”(1). A new frontier on which it is necessary stay and reflect if psychoanalysis wants to keep in touch with new diseases of the modern age.

How long did you take interest on this theme? What made you want to treat it?

Glen O. Gabbard. I could not avoid it. The world has changed. The practice of analysis and therapy has changed. Patients expect to email or text their analyst or therapist. My patients were texting me with a request for an appointment change. They were Googling me before the first appointment so they could find out more about me. When they arrived, they knew all about my life, my parents, my books.

Patients would email me their dreams. My colleagues were coming to me with cases presenting challenges brought about Internet communication. The cyberspace revolution created a new set of professional boundaries, and my students would ask me what to do.

Question. The screen mediates the communication with the other. Computers and I-phones make immediate the information’s transmission, and the spread of social networks prevents from losing touch with the other. The state of “being on line” or “off line” testifies the connection/ disconnection from reality, making possible being present “on demand”. What are the effects on identity? And what are the consequences on relationships?

Could we say that the logic of the capitalistic speech is restructuring the human subjectiveness?

Glen O. Gabbard. The self has changed to a cyberself. As Sherry Turkle has stressed in her book Alone Together (2011), we are now losing the art of human interaction. Our identity is now shaped by electronic communication. We are expected to make instant responses without benefit of filtering our responses through the process of reflection and contemplation. We are greatly influenced by how we want others to see us rather than how we genuinely feel. With the rise of Facebook and other social media, we now have social networking coaches who tell us to “be authentic.” However, this advice leads us to figure out how we can appear authentic rather than truly being authentic. We shape our image by what we think others will regard as authentic. The end result of being driven by electronic devices is a form of object relatedness where we expect others to give us immediate responses and meet our narcissistic needs. Relationships become more superficial. I would not agree, however, that the logic of capitalistic speech is restructuring the human subjectiveness. It is far more complicated than that.

Question. Paradoxically, the symptom’s suffering removes the subject from the risk of his reduction to an “object of consumption” allowing the emergence of the request of being helped. Currently the advent of psychotherapeutic approaches that deny the unconscious dynamics, satisfies the drive to “normalize” ” promoted by the era of technique through the two paradigms of extinction and adaptation.

How is possible defend and preserve psychoanalysis, today?  

Glen O. Gabbard. The key to defend and preserve psychoanalysis is to repeatedly clarify that it is not in a “horse race” with the “quick fix” approaches. We are not about symptom removal. Psychoanalysis is about a search for truth about the self. It is about taking off the masks of self-deception. In an era of instant communication and the demise of contemplation and reflection, psychoanalysis serves an important role – it offers the possibility of a more profound sense of authenticity based on knowledge of unconscious conflict and an intimate dialogue with a person trained to understand how the mind works.

Question. Transference and countertransference have to be handled to cope with the pervasiveness of a virtual reality that also begins to permeate the psychoanalytic setting. Could you say something about it?

Concluding this interview, who are the authors to whom you referred during your training and in your daily practice of psychoanalysis, with regards to the importance of supporting and promoting in this profession the need of assuming the responsibility of an ethic behaviour?

Glen O. Gabbard. The wide use of email promotes a split transference. What cannot be expressed in the session may be expressed in email between sessions. The countertransference varies widely, but we are all anxious now about the invasion of our privacy. We worry that patients can find out where we live, how much we paid for our house, photos on Facebook, children, parents, and events in our lives that bring us shame. We may feel violated by the disappearance of analytic anonymity. I think my friend and mentor Thomas Ogden is the analyst who has been most influential since my days in analytic training and even now in my role as an experienced analyst.

Note

(1)The conference was promoted by A.P.A and D. Winnicott Centre. It took place the last 17th of November 2012, at the Department of Pediatry and Infant Neuropsychitary of Sapienza, University of Rome.

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References

Gabbard, G.O., Lester E. P. (1995). Boundaries and Boundary Violations in Psychoanalysis. Arlington: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2003.

Gabbard, G.O. (2000). Love and hate in the analytic setting. Lanham: Jason Aronson.

Gabbard, G.O., Peltz M. (2001). Speaking the unspeakable: Institutional reactions to boundary violations by training analysts. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn, 49: 659-673.

Gabbard, G.O. (2005). Psychodynamic psychiatry in clinical practice. Arlington: American Psychiatric Publishing.

Ogden, T. (1977). Projective Identification and Psychotherapeutic Technique. Lanham: Jason Aronson.

Turkle, S. (2011). Alone Together. New York: Basic books.

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