Mindful Screening//

Why Human Connection Matters More Than Ever in the Age of Digital Health

It should always be at the heart of how we approach therapy.

The Technology Paradox

Millennials in 2019 present quite the paradox—they’re simultaneously the most connected and the loneliest generation. Millennials who reported spending the most time on social media, which adds up to be more than two hours a day, had twice the odds of perceived social isolation than those who said they spent a half hour per day or less on those sites.

As a mental health advocate, I think a lot about the positive and negative effects of technology on our day-to-day emotional and psychological wellbeing. On one hand, technology has fueled the innovation of some of the digital tools that are used to treat mental health issues, including teletherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy apps.

However, the research on the effects of screens on feelings of social isolation is difficult to ignore. According to a new study, the social isolation millennials feel increases the likelihood of anxiety and depression twofold. In an age where 43.8 million (1 in 5) adults in the United States experience mental illness in a given year, it’s crucial we take a thoughtful approach in exploring the most effective treatment options.

We know that lack of human connection is the problem for many suffering from anxiety and depression. Can we really believe that digital interfaces alone will represent the solution?

Honoring interpersonal relationships

In Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle, Ph.D., outlines the ways in which our reliance on digital messaging has changed the way an entire generation connects with each other. She poses that face-to-face interactions foster key human experiences like vulnerability, intimacy, and empathy—experiences that technology simply cannot offer. Turkle’s research suggests that strong relationships are made stronger by interpersonal interactions. However, rather than being “anti-technology,” she instead calls herself “pro-conversation.”

The power of in-person conversation can be pivotal in the psychotherapy setting. Turkle has found that the client-therapist connection improves through nonverbal communication that occurs from being in the same room. She writes, “crucial shared understandings between patient and [therapist] emerge in instantaneous moments of meeting.”

While digital interfaces and teletherapy can be valuable, Turkle’s work confirmed my belief in the power of the in-person connection.

Empathy and the client-therapist relationship

Unfortunately, a deep and trusting therapeutic relationship can be hard to come by in our mental health system today. I have heard over and over again about the frustration my friends and family have experienced while struggling to find therapists they connected with. From mismatched styles to different life experiences, the list of grievances goes on and on.

I saw so many barriers to care and started Two Chairs to make it simple to find a great therapist that is a great fit. I wanted both our clients and clinicians to feel they had the best match possible. We learned that clients feel the most supported when they feel their therapist can relate to their own personal stories. Therefore, our team is made up of clinicians with unique identities and lived experiences, areas of expertise, working styles, and clinical modalities.

We know that technology has an important place in health care, but have sought to make it fundamentally an enabler of great in-person care. Our team of clinicians and engineers have built matching technology combining clinical rigor and data science to help us make sure we’re getting clients to the right place. We’re seeing again and again the impact that the right in-person therapeutic relationship can have on a person’s wellbeing.

Spaces as sanctuaries

Like many relationships, a successful client-therapist relationship is founded on nonjudgmental, unbiased and ever-present empathy. Thus, we have infused empathy into all steps of our process, including the design of our physical clinic locations.

Two Chairs clinics are designed to highlight elements of nature in order to inspire calm and make people feel cared for. It’s long been documented that nature heals, and our clinics strive to invoke these feelings by incorporating natural wood, plants, and essential oils. We design our clinics to be warm, welcoming, and to encourage meaningful connection.

The future of therapy

Looking ahead, I want to continue to enable strong client-therapist connections for all people who seek therapy. While a purely digital connection may be convenient, we know that a deep, trusting relationship is not something easily replicated via a digital interface.

Sherry Turkle said it best when she shared, “We have a message that we want therapists and patients to take to heart: People and machines are not interchangeable. Ways of relating in therapy, venues and settings are not interchangeable. It is not true that in therapy, everything is negotiable.”

I believe that therapy creates a kinder and less lonely world, and am grateful that we are making strides in improving access to this. Technology is a great enabler of that, but is also just that: an enabler. Human connection should always be at the heart of how we approach therapy.

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