Coche, Judith

Dr. Judith Coche.

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“Judith, I don’t understand why I get so nervous when we do a group on Zoom. I take the medication the psychiatrist prescribed for me, but I feel so silly. Am I alone, or are others as worried about using zoom as I am?” 

The voice on the phone is well known to me. I have been Nathan’s psychotherapist for 18 years.  During that time, we have helped him with social anxiety in many ways.

It was hard for him to teach Advanced English to Cape May County high school students because he worried what they might think of him. It was hard for him to sing in public, despite years of voice lessons. Also, it is hard for him to live his life in the coronavirus-stricken world of using Zoom video chatting as a main source of communication. 

Nathan joined my advanced psychotherapy group for individuals four years ago. He feels close to the members, who value his intellect and sense of fair play. To be in this group, he drives monthly to my Rittenhouse Square office, in Philadelphia. To participate fully, he had to overcome his reticence to talk about his anxiety with the group members, but he now feels comfortable with the help and warm welcome he receives from them.

“Judith, have you heard of the “Zoom groups?” Nathan asked. I wondered if he meant that the Coche Center was holding group meetings on Zoom. 

“Yes, that is exactly what I mean," he added. "The pandemic in our world chased us into using video to hold our support group meeting.”

Another group member wanted to further understand what Nathan meant.

“I have been reading that video calls can leave us feeling tired and empty, making relationships seem unreal," I said. "Do you agree?"  Nathan turned to his group members.

Maryann, another member, answered, “I hadn’t thought of this, but it does make me nervous to be on a Zoom job interview more than an interview in person."

Maryann has graduated from college and is interviewing by Zoom for her first job. 

“It freaks me out to do this using a computer instead of in person. I learned that this is a real psychological problem called 'Zoom fatigue.'

I asked the group if they knew what Nathan and Maryann were talking about, based on personal experience.

Harvey looked around to see group members nodding and said, “Yes, they sure do know from personal experience, and so do I. I have been on Zoom working with clients for eight weeks, and I am really tired of beginning and ending meetings. I put a visual background on my zoom screen, but it only helped a bit. Anybody know what I mean?"

Sara answered, “Yes. Sometimes, I have trouble making sense of what people are saying. When we have trouble making sense of what’s going, on we can cause mistakes and distortions. Zoom is handy for short interchanges, but I dislike talking about personal things during a three-hour zoom group."

Recently, The New York Times suggested that we use Zoom at our own risk. Safer practices include using security settings, like passwords, using Zoom on a mobile device, which limits access to stored data, and trying not to use Zoom for highly personal topics, like work meetings that discuss trade secrets. Apps, like Google Hangouts or FaceTime, may be more complex to learn but are more likely to work, with less danger of interference.

I found deep concern about the safety of Zoom when I looked into this area for our use in my clinical psychology practice. Although many of us hesitate to trust our private matters to Zoom, we currently lack better alternatives

Here are three simple strategies to liven up videoconferencing:  

  1. Take a break between calls. Take time to reflect, regroup and recover.
  2. Use text messaging, email, and phone calls.
  3. Send handwritten notes and cards.

Zoom maybe today’s answer to convenient communication during a pandemic, but after researching its dangers, I would Zoom away from relying on it as much as possible. 

To Consider: How would you feel if your privacy was compromised in what you assumed to be a safe situation?

To Do: Protect yourself from an invasion of privacy by taking note of the dangers that lurk in seemingly handy apps. You are likely to be glad you were careful.

ED. NOTE: Dr. Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com.