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So, what does the future hold? The Virus has shattered the myth of the "individual" living in their own head, making rational choices, unfettered by society or wider norms. This social construct, beloved of much Western theory, is an illusion. Individuals are always part of something bigger

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Are you infecting someone?  Or is someone infecting you?  Carl Jung wondered if the psychotherapists and their patient were always infecting one another, psychically speaking.  He thought the most powerful interactions between patients and therapists was along the fault-lines that they both shared.  But he also worried that this was very dangerous for the therapist, who could succumb to a "psychic infection", and lose their own footing.  That's why psychotherapists have their own therapy, or supervision, in order to clean this "psychic wounds", which may become reinfected.  Nowadays, relational psychotherapists focus on the intersubjective field between therapists and client, arguing that the therapy process is co-created, with the unique direction of the therapy dependent on the specific intermingling of two subjectivities.  The idea is that both therapist and client are mutually affecting and influencing each other throughout the session, both consciously and unconsciously.  It is this "intersubjective field" where the therapy takes place.

The idea of a field is pertinent to the virus.  Suddenly, we are aware of our interactions and our environments. We are no longer free floating individuals bouncing about in our own worlds.  We are social creatures, in social contact, in social environments.  Recent attempts from governments to control our movements and interactions range from benign to draconian; all of them attempt to withdraw us from our social contexts and situations.  We are being withdrawn from "intersubjective fields."  But of course, it is very hard to be indivdual on your own.  Even to be an individual you need other people, and certain contexts.

The virus has laid bare our interdependence on each other.  There is even a hierarchy on who we depend on most, medical staff, energy workers, supermarket workers and so on.  Usually, these interdependencies are hidden from our minds. We value "independence" and "resilience".  However, the current situation has placed our "vulnerabilities" and "dependencies" to the forefront of our minds.  Suddenly, we wonder, who will take care of us if we get sick?  Will we recover with mild symptoms, or will we be hospitalised?  Will our livelihoods recover, or will we find ourselves unemployed?  Will the people we love be affected or will they recover? 

The "herd" approach which the UK government was taking until a few days ago, assumes that we are social creatures, and that most of us will be infected at some point, and need to develop immunity.  This is interesting from a political party that said that there is no such thing as society.  Well, now they seem to think that there is.  In fact, the government is stepping into a "big state" role, a "parental role", advising us what we can and cannot do.  In the coming days it will step in to bail out industries that cannot afford to pay their staff or keep going.  The government will be required to keep society operating at some level, although in a very reduced fashion, unlike anything we have experienced in recent history.

In the last few days it has stepped back from the herd approach, as it feels, with the latest scientific models, that this may be irresponsible.  So, rather like a strict parent, who doesn't like not being in control, but doesn't want to come down to heavy, it is giving out stern advice to citizens, without actually placing them under house arrest.  Although there is a sense that they could change their mind at any minute, and get really really strict.  

In many parts of the world, the economic and political environment means that huge parts of the population have, on a daily basis, for many years, faced power cuts, water shortages, and frequent health emergencies; in such situations, people experience their own vulnerablity and interdependence on each other and their environment on a daily basis.  In the affluent west, many people have been insulated from this brutal and unsettling reality.  However, the virus has thrown everyone into their own personal and collective experience of instability.  The video clips of people fighting over toilet paper or hand gels in their local Aldi maybe rather comic; and we may think we are above all that.  Again, the waiting list on ocado may feel rather bizarre and surreal.  Yet, these comic interludes hint at the shift in our group mind and behaviour.  We are regressing to a more instinctual and primitive state, where we seek to hunker down, and protect ourselves and those around us.  No doubt, in the coming days, our light hearted approach to the virus will be replaced by something more urgent and disturbing.  During these times we will need each other more than ever before.


Ajay Khandelwal PhD

Ajay Khandelwal is an experienced psychotherapist and consultant. He welcomes contact and enquiries and is accepting new clients via zoom during the shut down.