Layers of senses: Experiencing intercorporeality in teletherapy
Teletherapy, namely, therapy that uses technology for communication between patients and therapists, is challenged by the impersonal nature of remote and digital communication. Using Merleau-Ponty’s theoretical concept of intercorporeality, which refers to the perceived reciprocity between two people’s bodies during communication, this article aims to elaborate on spiritual caregivers’ experience of interacting with patients during teletherapy. Semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with 15 Israeli spiritual caregivers who use various forms of teletherapy (Zoom, FaceTime, phone calls, WhatsApp messages, etc.). Interviewees emphasized their physical presence with the patient as a main principle in spiritual care. They indicated the involvement of nearly all senses in physical presence therapy, which allows for joint attention and compassionate presence. When making use of various communication technologies in teletherapy, they reported the involvement of fewer senses. The more senses involved in the session and the clearer it is that space and time are shared by both caregiver and patient, the stronger the caregiver’s presence with the patient. Interviewees experienced teletherapy as eroding the multisensory joint attention and intercorporeality and, hence, the quality of care. This article points at the advantages of teletherapy for therapists in general and spiritual caregivers in particular but claims, nonetheless, that it challenges the main principles of therapy. Joint attention in therapy is, fundamentally, a multisensory phenomenon that may be understood as intercorporeality. Our use of the notion of intercorporeality sheds light on the reduction of the senses involved in remote interpersonal communication and its impact on care and, more generally, the interpersonal communication experienced during telemedicine. This article’s findings may also contribute to the field of cyberpsychology and to therapists engaged in telepsychology.