The end of psychology as we know it

Zooming with psychologist Paul Rhodes (Photo: Juliane Lehmayer)

My therapist’s living room looks exactly like I’ve imagined it. He is sitting in a leather chair in front of a wall of books. In the corner of his Zoom screen I can glimpse some fresh flowers.

This ensemble should probably make me feel more relaxed. Yet, everything about it is uncomfortable. Here we are, my therapist and I. For the first time he’s sharing something personal like his living room with me, still, the intimacy feels unreal.

“Can you hear me?,” he asks. The audio sounds surprisingly clear, considering I’m currently isolating deep in a hidden valley in the Blue Mountains. I share some fears about the virus, how I’ve always been anxious as a kid, while trying so hard not to watch my own Zoom video.

We need to resist falling into a collective freaking out and catastrophising.

Is he listening or is he checking his hair as well? The online stream creates this immaterial space between us. After all, what’s therapy without personal connection?

It’s a question that I’m going to pass on at my next appointment. Another Zoom meeting, another psychologist. Though, this one is not about me, it’s an interview with Paul Rhodes, a professor at Sydney Uni. Recording an interview without meeting face-to-face used to be against all my journalistic principles. These days, it’s my only option.

And adapting our lives is now crucial, Rhodes tells me.

The psychologist claims therapy as we know it has come to an end. Because so have our lives.

“We now live off technology,” he says. “We’ve entered a post-human area.”

Consequently, he thinks, it’s time for a new post-humanism psychology.  

In fact, we are facing a whole range of new anxieties. So far, 2020 has been a highly stressful year in Australia. As soon as we thought we made it through the bush fire season, the virus took over. Eco-anxiety – the constant fear of climate change – and the anxiety of corona have both been on the rise, he says.

ECO-ANXIETY AND HOW ABORIGINAL PSYCHOLOGY CAN HELP

Both anxieties are new, yet quite similar, since the climate and the virus are both beyond our control and at the forefront of our consciousness.

“Both anxieties showed us we’re no longer the centre of the universe,” the psychology professor says.

Still, therapy today is mostly caught up on cognition models of the ’80s.

“Anxiety within psychology has been positioned as something that is inside of you, that you personally need to deal with,” Rhodes says.

But solving your mummy and daddy issues will neither save the climate nor make isolation easier.

“The anxiety is not only in your head anymore, it’s collective, it’s global,” he adds. “For the first time since World War II we are dealing with global existential anxiety.”

If we are entering a world where social media is our life, humanity has never been as important.

Ironically, this means, in order to tame our anxiety we have to be mindful about our individual habits. Isolation is turning us into cyborgs, Rhodes says.

“We’re experiencing this crisis through technology, through social media – it is the new collective mind,” he adds. “We have to be very careful with this. We need to resist falling into a collective freaking out and catastrophising.”

Also, as cheesy as it may sound – every crisis is a chance to grow into something beautiful.

“It’s not a war, it’s the opposite,” Rhodes says. “A new sense of community has already grown out of this.”

Even stodgy, safe Australian politics has shown an ability to change.

“The world has basically given up the economy to protect the vulnerable – that’s remarkable,” Rhodes says. “That has never happened before.” And, he adds, “the virus has done a wonderful job for the climate too”.

So what’s ahead then?

In this current post-human world it’s about keeping your mind and judgment sharp. And embracing what makes us human, after all.

“Let’s not forget to go outside, experience nature, listen to vinyl or draw,” Rhodes says. “If we are entering a world where social media is our life, humanity has never been as important.”

When I’d finished recording the zoom interview and prepared lunch before my online class, I started scrolling through my Instagram feed. Rhodes has made a valid point. We’re all isolating together online. My European friends, for the first time ever, have the same daily schedule as I do in Australia. Everybody is baking banana bread, sharing daily painting exercises, posting uplifting quotes about mental health. Collective online grieving.

Here’s a silver lining:

“After the grieving comes the action,” Rhodes says. “After this, a whole renaissance of new ideas is ahead.”