During the period of Lockdown, my work with children has been most affected. Schools took precautionary measures some time before the prohibition from the central government. Without proper intimation to the children, or interaction with them, we parted physically for an unknown period of time.
In private practice, parents played an important role in deciding whether or not their child could continue working through a video platform.
Personally, I had my fingers crossed that nobody would make such a demand, for I had never worked with children online and I anticipated that we would be overwhelmed without objects such as toys, games, artwork, books etc., circulating in between us.
Nevertheless, I felt pushed to continue with a young girl whose parents reached out to me when her symptoms aggravated during the confinement. Without getting into too much detail of the case, I would like to present two small instances from our work over video chats, which were formidable experiences for me.
Harry Potter, the chosen one, knows for certain that he is chosen when he can speak parseltongue. The first time around, he doesn’t even know it. He is oblivious to the fact that he spoke a different language.
This young girl, a recent fan of Harry Potter film series, had difficulty with language in times of crisis. When she was upset, she would resort to sounds and cries, while her body would shake and tremble.
We had not yet faced this kind of scenario in treatment while she was visiting my clinic in person. It emerged for the first time online.
She inquired if I had done what she had asked of me and I responded with a slight ’No’, mentioning I’ve been busy and I thought we would do it together. It was enough of a ‘No’ to upset her. She switched the camera off, and sniffled loudly. However, she didn’t cut the call.
In the preceding sessions, we were working on puppets. She made one for herself; I made one for myself. Her puppet was destined to be a fancy lady, American in origin, Italian in style. It is important since her family has Italian lineage. I took inspiration from Harry Potter and made Nagini, the snake. It was in the above-mentioned moment of breakdown between us – the child and the therapist – that Nagini came to our rescue. I spoke to her puppet Miss X, the chosen one, via Nagini in parseltongue (gibberish snake language). As her crying stopped, I whispered in half words-half parseltongue, saying how silly I was to not remember something so important to her.
Slowly, she responded not in speech, but in writing, texting me to let me know ‘Miss X is ok’. Nagini then used small phrases in Italian to impress Miss X. and start a new conversation. The story continues, thanks to parseltongue and Italian, two new languages between us, in addition to the objects.
I had a strange encounter with the place (position) that I occupy during these video sessions. Once, her phone fell off the bed and landed in a small opening between its edge and the wall. She called out to her brother and mother for help. Meanwhile I was fascinated with the view I had, virtually stuck in this narrow gap. The camera was pointing upwards when her brother leaned in and announced ‘Hi, I’m here to get you out!’ Voila! I realized my place – there was no more a distinction between the actual therapist (me), sitting in a wide-open room and my moving, talking image on her phone, stuck in a cleft.
All three made a reference to ‘saving me’ and ‘getting me out’. Neither of them seemed too concerned about the instrument, the phone. Furthermore, in common speech, the girl says phrases like ‘oops, you fell down’, when the phone falls. She places it carefully and says, ‘ok now you’re fine’. Or ‘I am going to put you here for some time while I go get water’
On one side, the rupture pushed us to find a new language when we were faced with the absence of our bodies and objects in-between us. On another side, I was in the place of being one with the object. Most of the times, an object she looks after, additionally and importantly, an object that she can control. She can turn me off when she wants.
Instead, she chose to control it differently, to measure her interactions with the other, to restrict them. She hides by turning the camera off and takes her voice away with the mute button.
The moving portrait version of me allows her to place me exactly where she wants me to be. For now, I’m locked down in her phone.