It Loses Something

Posted on March 30, 2020


Since we are all “sheltering in place,” I am only taking counseling appointments by phone or Skype at present.  Historically for me, such appointments have been the rare exception so this is new territory.  Thus far, my experience is that the Skype sessions are not substantially different from office sessions (as long as clients can have privacy and be free from other distractions).  These appointments do force my couples to sit close together so they are both in frame.  So far that has been a good thing.  But then, the appointments have been with couples who are a little further along in their work.  With the phone appointments on the other hand, from my end as the therapist, they lose a lot.  Even with clients I know well, there is something about not being able to see the other person that changes the dynamics.

Since I couldn’t remember the numbers, I did a quick web search on what the research had to say about how much of communication is in the words, the tone, and the body language.  The findings have been that communication is 7% the words, 38% tone, and 55% body language.  We won’t dig into the studies that came up with these numbers, but suffice to say, we lose a lot of communication when we can’t see each other.

In my experience, distressed couples often try to have significant conversations by text message.  They usually choose this because they escalate into arguments when they try to talk together.  The problem with this is that now we are down to about 7% of the message coming through.  Text messaging is wonderful for exchanging pieces of information such as “I’m running 10 minutes late,” or “Do you have time to pick up the dry cleaning?”  It loses way too much if you are trying to talk about your relationship that way.

The occasional couple will tell me that it works for them.  You are captains of your own ship and can do what you want.  If it works for you, fine.  My hope for you would be that you could get to a place where there isn’t any topic about which you could not have a productive conversation face to face.  No elephants in the room.  No mine fields to navigate.  No eggshells to walk across.

De-escalation is not the endgame.  Intimacy is.  Connection is.  Emotional safety is.  That requires more than just the words.

As an afterthought, if all you need are the words, we don’t need therapists.  AI can give you the words.