Add as bookmark

Back to Reality

by Beata Bishop(more info)

listed in holistic psychotherapy, originally published in issue 70 - November 2001

One of the basic tenets of psychotherapy is that the client's presenting problem is never the real problem: it may have a deep root buried in the unconscious, probably in a barely remembered past – or, as I increasingly find, in some current collective development that, unnoticed, causes harm to individual lives. Either way, my job as a therapist is to explore my clients' inner landscape, try to find the unsuspected factor beyond the obvious problem and forge links between the two.

What I find these days behind the anxieties and difficulties of many clients is the loss of ordinary human contact in more and more areas of life. They complain of a sense of isolation, of a collective loneliness that has nothing to do with their personal lives and its difficulties: it is, as one woman put it, as if the world itself were becoming colder, bristling with invisible walls between people. She went on to tell me how the day before she had been reduced to rage, followed by tears of frustration, when every telephone call she tried to make as part of her job was answered by long sequences of recorded messages, sandwiched between snatches of irritating music. "I couldn't get through to a real person, a human being," she said, still angry and indignant. "I felt I was ignored and overlooked, kept waiting, silenced, made to feel irrelevant and helpless and terribly isolated – who do you complain to if there's nobody there? Nobody, only bits of TAPE?"

If there's nobody there… She got it right. That's what it's about: the growing impersonality of our daily existence, due to the galloping progress of technology that is supposed to make life easier by saving labour and effort. How far it has succeeded, and at what cost, is open to debate. In the case of the new multiple-choice automated telephone system – "Thank you for your patience" croons the relevant bit of tape while you're feeling homicidal rather than patient – it doesn't work. Besides wasting time and money, by removing the human element it has killed direct communication across the distance, which is, after all, what the telephone was invented for.

And there's more to the process than causing telephone rage. A Finnish proverb states that fire is a good servant, but a bad master. The same applies to the ever more dazzling power of technology which seems to take control of our lives, squeezing out the human element, becoming master rather than servant. Take, for instance, medicine and its incredible life-saving, hi-tech wizardry, which works wonders in acute health crises but does precious little for chronic conditions; technically it goes from strength to strength, leaving less and less room for human input.

In a booklet recently issued by London's Science Museum, the forecast for medicine in twenty years' time promises a vastly expanded range of new medical interventions, many from technologies in sectors such as defence and aerospace. Robots in operating theatres, electronic links to specialists, tele-surgery to oversee distant operations – a clanking, sterile, utterly hygienic, plastic-glass-and-chromium vision of health care is preparing to burst into our lives, at the precise moment when the vital importance of the body-mind link, of the holistic approach and of human interaction is being rediscovered.

Will there be anyone in the hi-tech health factories of the future besides the brilliant technicians to talk and listen to patients, hold their hands or share a moment of silence? If not, we'd better remain healthy.

So much for medicine. But look around: automation and mechanization, leading to de-personalization, are spreading everywhere. We are encouraged to work from home, in less than splendid isolation, to shop, book outings and holidays on-line, do everything via a keyboard and mouse, without any human contact. Or take education: computers in schools are fine as teaching aids but hardly as role models, and are notoriously difficult to relate to. Yet teachers I know who could fulfil those needs confess to feeling squeezed out by machine intelligence. And the proverbial teenager, reared on TV and computer games, who grunts rather than talks, loses out even more on relating skills, the beginning and end of human contact. That contact is also missing from chat rooms where people can act out their fantasy selves, rather than relate eye to eye, live voice to live voice. In other words they are trading in genuine human experience for virtual reality, which is a sure recipe for isolation and loss.

Beyond the obvious advantages of our technologically dazzling world, this is the shadow side, the dark face we have to beware of, not allowing the useful servant to become the tyrannical master. Let us cultivate and celebrate the human element, the quirky, unregimented, often messy and often sublime humanity that we all share, and fight off the twin threats of impersonality and indifference. Teilhard de Chardin, the priest-scientist and mystic who was one of the great spirits of the twentieth century, died long before technology became a global power for both good and evil, yet he left us a warning that speaks to us here and now. This is what he wrote:

" If human particles are to grow, they must ultimately, in unison and simultaneously, love one another; for there is no true love in an atmosphere of collectivity. Love dies in contact with the impersonal and the anonymous, it becomes impoverished with remoteness in space and with distance in time. Love cannot be born and take permanent root, unless it finds a heart, a face."

And those necessities belong to life, not to virtual reality.


  1. No Article Comments available

Post Your Comments:

About Beata Bishop

Beata Bishop is a writer, lecturer and psychotherapist in private practice, working along Jungian and transpersonal lines. Her special interests include the role of the spiritual dimension in all kinds of healing, and the body-mind link in sickness and health. Her book, A Time to Heal (First Stone Publishing, 2010), describes her journey from life-threatening cancer to robust health using an unorthodox nutritional therapy. She can be contacted on e-mail:

top of the page