Psychotherapy across distance and time, from Freud’s treatments by mail to crisis hotlines, radio call-ins, chatbots, and Zoom sessions.
Therapy has long understood itself as taking place in a room, with two (or more) people engaged in person-to-person conversation. And yet, starting with Freud’s treatments by mail, psychotherapy has operated through multiple communication technologies and media. These have included advice columns, radio broadcasts, crisis hotlines, video, personal computers, and mobile phones; the therapists (broadly defined) can be professional or untrained, strangers or chatbots. In The Distance Cure, Hannah Zeavin proposes a reconfiguration of the traditional therapeutic dyad of therapist and patient as a triad: therapist, patient, and communication technology.
Zeavin tracks the history of teletherapy (understood as a therapeutic interaction over distance) and its metamorphosis from a model of cure to one of contingent help. She describes its initial use in ongoing care, its role in crisis intervention and symptom management, and our pandemic-mandated reliance on regular Zoom sessions. Her account of the “distanced intimacy” of the therapeutic relationship offers a powerful rejoinder to the notion that contact across distance (or screens) is always less useful, or useless, to the person seeking therapeutic treatment or connection. At the same time, these modes of care can quickly become a backdoor for surveillance and disrupt ethical standards important to the therapeutic relationship. The history of the conventional therapeutic scenario cannot be told in isolation from its shadow form, teletherapy. Therapy, Zeavin tells us, was never just a “talking cure”; it has always been a communication cure.
“The Distance Cure is a work of pure brilliance. Hannah Zeavin is that rare scholar who connects past and future, distance and absence, external and internal, in compelling and vital ways. She writes powerfully and lucidly about the complexities of psychotherapy and its discontents. The result is arguably the most important book about the history of helping relationships, and the forms of communication on which they depend, in decades. Drop whatever you are doing and read this vital book: you will be better for it.”
—Jonathan Metzl, Director, Center for Medicine, Health, and Society, Vanderbilt University; author of Dying of Whiteness
“This book is a fascinating, groundbreaking history of therapy, told from the perspective of the communication technologies that have long enabled it. A must-read for all scholars of technology, health, and communication.”
—Mar Hicks, Associate Professor, Illinois Institute of Technology; author of Programmed Inequality: How Britain Discarded Women Technologists and Lost Its Edge in Computing
“In a world of over-mediated hyper-communication that has left us all feeling adrift and isolated, Zeavin’s The Distance Cure gives us the history that we need to catch up with our future. Of course psychoanalysis, from the very beginning, played with the frame, with technology, with experimental configurations, to explore unknown, maybe even unknowable, forms of intimacy. We need to remember that this is possible—before amnesia sets in. Zeavin is ready to be your reminder.”
—Jamieson Webster; author of Conversion Disorder: Listening to the Body in Psychoanalysis
About the Author:
Hannah Zeavin is a Lecturer in the Departments of English and History at the University of California, Berkeley, and is affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley, Center for Science, Technology, Medicine, and Society. She is a Visiting Fellow at Columbia University’s Center for Social Difference and Editorial Associate at The Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in American Imago, differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Real Life Magazine, Slate, and elsewhere.