“Distance is not the opposite of presence. Absence is.”
How do professional providers navigate legal and ethical issues embedded in distanced intimacy? Which considerations should mental health care platform developers prioritize? How should bots, platforms, and data collection related to care be governed or regulated?
Inspired by Hannah Zeavin’s book “The Distance Cure: A History of Telepathy,” Author Zeavin, Psychiatrist Dr. Romy Gad el Rab and Data & Society Health and Data Researcher Livia Garofalo discuss the many forms of distanced intimacy performed by health care providers, whether through professional sessions, helplines, chatbots, or even ASMR videos.
Zeavin began her critical history research prior to COVID-19, and she notes that teletherapy almost always attends crisis, whether it’s World War II, the war for liberation in Algeria, suicide epidemics in San Francisco, and of course, our current pandemic unfolding right now.
Mapping mental health services’ relationship with technology since the 1890’s, the book details:
“…the history of these helping relationships and the forms of communication on which they depend: with a human known to us, a stranger, a person we know only by voice, and with ourselves. It’s about how we generate, maintain, and practice those relationships across time and across distance. It is about the transformations of human (and human/non- human) intimacy in the long twentieth century…All these different forms of mental health care have at least one thing in common: the belief that some kind of communication helps if not cures, regardless of its medium.”